Beginning Sunday, city officials expect Del Rio International Airport will be abuzz with activity as American Airlines begins commercial air service here.
The city will host a “FLYDRT Launch Party” from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Jack L. Richardson Terminal at Del Rio International Airport. There will be free refreshments, live entertainment and raffle prizes.
The launch party will culminate with American Airlines’ first flight into the airport at 4 p.m.
“The flight will leave Dallas at 2:25 p.m. and is expected to land here right before 4 p.m. It goes back again at 4:30 p.m. to Dallas,” Del Rio International Airport Manager Juan Onofre said Thursday.
The airport terminal has been regularly maintained since Del Rio lost commercial air service in mid-November 2017, Onofre said.
“We have the potential to carry at least 34,000 passengers during the year, and so everybody that flies usually comes with other people, family or guests, so we could be seeing double that, 60,000 or 70,000 people, passing in and out of the airport in a year,” he said.
Onofre said he and the airport ntenance staff have been keeping the facility in readiness “as though we were going to start operations tomorrow.”
“All of the air conditioning units, all of the water lines, all the bathrooms, have been well-maintained, well-kept, so they’re ready to go,” Onofre said.
Arrangements have also been made to re-initiate cable television and internet service to the terminal, Onofre said, noting the terminal will provide free public WiFi and cable TV service in its two waiting rooms.
“Those items that were going to cost us money, we were holding off on those,” he explained.
The airport manager has also been coordinating with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which will have a continual presence at the airport once commercial airline service resumes.
“When Texas Sky left, we asked TSA to leave their equipment here because by their regulations, they’re supposed to take all of their equipment and personnel 90 days after air service is terminated. After those 90 days were over, we asked for an extension, given that we were already in negotiations with American, and we asked American to tell TSA that they were looking at coming to Del Rio,” Onofre said.
“If they had removed their equipment, we would have been ‘defederalized,’ so we would have had to go through the whole process again, but by keeping the equipment here, we are still ‘federalized,’ and the transition was much smoother. They sent their personnel and made sure everything was working, the connections were working, that the equipment was recalibrated, and to date, they’re ready,” he added.
At least seven TSA agents will be hired to staff the Del Rio airport office, and while those agents are being trained, the agency will send a “strike team” of trained agents to perform the work.
Also making final preparations for the resumption of commercial air service is the company that will handle American’s ground operations here.
“The company that is going to be providing the ground service, ground handling for American Airlines is Envoy Air, so they also operate the airplane for American, and they’re going to hire approximately 12 to 15 people, and they’re going to be busy all day long. They’re going to start at 5:30 a.m., and they’re going to be here until 11 p.m.,” Onofre said.
“American came in and updated their facilities, the area where they will be located in the terminal. They put their brand touch on it, so they changed the counter so it has the American Airline colors and logo, and it is more ADA-accessible, has more space and an extra station to weigh bags. The company also brought in two data terminals for self check-in,” he added.
The airport manager said he is also working with a local food vendor who is planning to open a small bistro to serve airline passengers and other visitors to the terminal.
Onofre said the airfield is also ready to cater to the increase in flights.
“We have been keeping the airport certified to run this type of operation, commercial air operations, since 2005, and every year we have an inspection, a safety inspection, from the FAA, and our last was in August. We had a small write-up, which we’ve already corrected, and we’re good to go for another year,” he said.
“This building is going to be running continuously, seven days a week. It’s very quiet now, but that’s going to end Sunday,” Onofre said.