Despite their popularity, nonstop flights to Detroit will soon end for passengers using the Rochester International Airport, after only a few months.
After about six months, Delta Air Lines has notified the airport that it will be pulling the plug on the daily nonstop flights to Detroit on April 9, according the new Airport Director John Reed.
Reed says he received notification from Delta on Feb. 17, his second day on the job. Delta launched the Detroit and Atlanta flights in September with great fanfare with many saying it was needed for the anticipated increase in air travel expected due to Mayo Clinic's Destination Medical Center initiative.
While the City of Rochester owns the airport, Mayo Clinic is contracted to manage it via its Rochester Airport Co.
Delta confirmed Monday that the flights will end with a short statement that said it "has made the decision to indefinitely suspend Rochester service to Detroit to ensure we’re matching capacity with demand."
This is not the first time Delta has ended flights from Rochester to Detroit. It killed a similar flight back in 2011.
While the Detroit will come to an end, Delta did stress that its daily flights to Atlanta and Minneapolis will continue. In fact, Delta intends add another Minneapolis flight as the Detroit one ends, according to Reed.
"Essentially, our seat capacity will remain the same," he said.
Numbers from the airport shows that the new flights did bump up its Rochester passenger numbers in 2014 by 20 percent over 2013. Rochester Airport Co. President Steve McNeill, who works for Mayo Clinic, recently reported that Delta had 120,474 passengers here in 2014. From September through December, the months of service to all three of its hubs, the count was 41,854, an 18 percent or 6,500 increase over the similar period in 2013.
"We're certainly happy with the new, expanded service," said McNeill earlier this month, "and I'm sure Delta is, too." Flight payloads, or occupancy levels, were slightly above expectations, with flights to Atlanta averaging at about the mid-80s percent, and to Detroit slightly lower, he added.
Reed says data shows that the Detroit flights ran about 75 percent filled, most of the time.
"It wasn't that the community wasn't supporting us, because they were," he said.
Mayor Ardell Brede hadn't been notified yet about the change on Monday. He said, if true, it would a loss for Rochester.
"I liked that flight," he said. Brede added that it was full when he recently used it.
Reed and Brede both said that they had heard that a shortage of pilots was one reason that Delta ended the flight.
Another possible factor could be a $950,000 "risk mitigation fund set up to guarantee Delta a profit on the new flights during the first year. The rub is that the fund, made up of federal grants, a city match and private donations, doesn't cover the Detroit flight. It only guarantees a profit for Delta's Atlanta fight.
A Delta media representative didn't know about the fund or if it could have played a part in this change.
The ending of the Detroit flights does cast a pall on the airport's future requirement of airlines, to add flights, like ones to Denver.
In May, a national air service consultant said in a Rochester Area Chamber-sponsored forum that, "Adding Atlanta and Detroit is a game changer."
He followed that by saying that many other airlines will be watching how those flights fare.
"This is an important test case to prove that you can fill the larger airplanes. If they (Delta) have to pull it, it would be a big red flag," Joseph Pickering told the crowd of local business leaders.