City of Del Rio

American Airlines may resume commercial air service to Del Rio if Congress passes another coronavirus relief bill, city council members learned Tuesday.

Members of the Del Rio City Council heard the news during a briefing from the city’s Washington, D.C., lobbying group, Madison Government Affairs.

Madison’s Paul J. Hirsch started the presentation with a congressional update, noting the House Appropriations Committee has passed 12 appropriation bills in 2020.

He said since the fiscal year began on Oct. 1, the government has been run on a continuing resolution that is funding operations and will continue to do so through Dec. 11.

“A COVID relief bill is on a lot of people’s minds ... but little progress has been made on moving a COVID relief bill forward after Congress has approved three already for a little over $3 trillion total. Now with the election over, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’d look to get a stimulus package done before the end of the year, which is a shift from (what he said) earlier in the year,” Hirsch told the council.

A new wrinkle in the process, he added, is the Jan. 5 runoff election that will decide the two Senate seats in Georgia.

“So we might not get a relief bill until next year, because those seats might stay in Republican control or they might split with a Democratic majority, with the vice president being the tie-breaker,” Hirsch said.

He told the council Val Verde County has a new representative in the U.S. House, Republican Tony Gonzales of San Antonio, who will take office in January. Hirsch also noted U.S. Sen. John Cornyn has been re-elected for another six years.

Hirsch said Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano spoke to Madison Group members about concerns regarding American Airlines’ continued service to Del Rio in mid-August.

Hirsch reminded the council American notified 15 small to medium communities it would suspend service to their airports once funding provided through the federal CARES Act ran out in October.

Hirsch said his group spoke to an American official in the company’s legislative affairs branch on several occasions.

“They really pushed us and the city and the mayor to lobby the Texas delegation to get a COVID relief bill done that would contain airline industry support. They (American) were already provided substantial loans in the CARES Act, and they were also provided with a payroll support program specific to the airline industry, and those funds have run out,” Hirsch said.

He said during several meetings with airline and other officials, Madison representatives have pointed out Del Rio needs commercial air service to support its cross-border manufacturing economy, Laughlin Air Force Base and its large contingent of homeland security agencies.

“But that fell on deaf ears at American Airlines. They had already made up their minds,” Hirsch said.

He noted, however, it is to be hoped another COVID relief bill will be passed “sooner rather than later,” adding there is language in the bill “that if the (airline) industry takes the federal monies and the PSP (Payroll Support Program) dollars, they are committed to servicing any route that they served before March 2020.”

“With that said, with American going to take the money from the next COVID relief bill, there will be service returned to Del Rio, but it has been an inconvenience to Del Rio for the last two months and for the next month at least, until Congress can get this done, so, the sooner the better,” Hirsch said.

Hirsch and one of his partners, Jack Hession also reviewed grants being sought for several construction projects at Laughlin Air Force Base and the lack of significant progress in a federal review of the wind farms slated for development in central Val Verde County by a Chinese company.