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American Airlines to continue Roswell flights

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Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh, right, talks Wednesday morning with members of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. about the continuation of American Airlines flights here during October. RCCEDC President Mike Espiritu, left, says the EDC has been assisting city staff in their work. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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American Airlines has informed the city of Roswell that it will continue to provide commercial air service to the Roswell Air Center during October, a reversal of a decision made a week earlier, Mayor Dennis Kintigh said Wednesday morning.

But the financial distress affecting American and other U.S. airlines due to the pandemic still exists, so city elected officials and staff plan to continue working on a potential financial deal to offer American after October to ensure continued commercial air service to the city.

“There will be no suspension of air service in the month of October for Roswell Air Center,” Kintigh said. “There are still serious issues dealing with air travel in the United States at this time. American Airlines has announced that they are laying off 19,000 employees, but we are working with American Airlines and we are attempting to identify methods and resources to ensure not just the continued service to Dallas, but return service to Phoenix.”

Kintigh explained that city officials had been called earlier in the day by a vice president for network planning, a person city officials had spoken with Tuesday as well, and the airline executive informed the city that the corporation had decided to continue providing service to and from Dallas at the Roswell Air Center. Kintigh said the airline’s decision was made so that the entities had time to “negotiate a reasonable deal for all.”

He said city officials — with the help of federal and state legislators and the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. — had been “working tirelessly” for a week to ensure continued flights.

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Roswell’s only commercial air service had informed city officials Wednesday night that it would temporarily suspend flight service from Oct. 7 until at least Nov. 3 to 15 smaller U.S. cities in several states. The airline then issued a national public announcement early Thursday morning.

A spokesperson for the airline chose not to answer a question about the status of October flights in the other 14 cities, but noted that its conversations with Roswell are continuing.

“In the absence of an extension of the Payroll Support Program, we’re faced with a host of difficult decisions to right-size our airline, given the significant and sustained drop in demand we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Senior Field Communications Specialist Stacy Day. “While our flights to Roswell are among those that have suffered when it comes to demand and profitability, we have been in touch with local officials and will defer our decision to suspend service to the market as those conversations are ongoing.” 

In addition to lower demand, the airline said its earlier decision came as the result of the Sept. 30 expiration of a minimum service requirement established by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

That requirement was part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and its Payroll Support Program. American Airlines received $5.8 billion in funding, and it and other airlines that received the money were required to continue at least some flights to all cities they had been serving as of March 1.

After the pandemic-related shutdown of airline service in March, American had been providing daily service to and from Dallas at the Roswell Air Center. It discontinued the daily Phoenix flights in April because of low passenger counts.

What will happen next, Kintigh said, could be one of three things. Airline ridership could increase to levels necessary to sustain flights on their own, or Congress and the Trump Administration could reach an agreement to provide additional financial support for the airline industry, or the airline and Roswell Air Center will find themselves back where they were Tuesday, negotiating how to continue service here.

Kintigh said plans now call for the city and American Airlines management to discuss the matter again in a couple of weeks.

As Kintigh previously has explained, after city employees and elected officials received the news Wednesday night, they began to discuss ways that they could put together a minimum revenue guarantee, or MRG, that would make it financially feasible for American Airlines to offer service to and from both Dallas and Phoenix, at least until March.

“We are going to keep that option,” he said. “We are going to flesh that out a little better. We were really hurrying to put together a quick package, but now we have a little more time.”

He has said that the city already has budgeted some funds for an MRG. That money was intended to be used to develop an additional flight service to Denver with another commercial carrier, and the city received a $750,000 federal grant for that purpose.

He added that nearby cities and counties could be part of an MRG agreement. That was the case when one was offered, but never needed, for the Dallas flight service in 2007, and when one was used for a couple of years to support the Phoenix flight service that started in 2016. 

Kintigh and Mike Espiritu, president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., have said that commercial air service is crucial to economic growth and recovery in this area.

Concerning the planned layoffs of up to 19,000, Day provided a copy of an Aug. 25 letter written by corporate officers, including Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker.

The letter states that layoffs will not be needed if additional federal financial assistance is provided to U.S. airlines. While public, labor union and congressional support exists for airline financial assistance, the letter indicates, “a PSP extension is tied up in a larger COVID-19 relief package, which our elected officials haven’t yet been able to negotiate.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.