Duluth International comes up empty on request for grant to help establish air service to Denver

Rochester is the sole airport in Minnesota to receive air service funding from the Department of Transportation.

A traveler at Duluth International Airport walks past a sign touting flying local. / News Tribune file photo

Duluth International Airport had hoped to bring nonstop service to Denver online this spring, but those plans likely will need to wait a bit longer. Airport officials recently learned Duluth didn't make the cut this year in its application for a grant through the Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASD).

The city sought $771,500 through the U.S. Department of Transportation program to help bring SkyWest Airlines — a United Airlines affiliate — into the market, providing direct regularly scheduled service to Denver for the first time.

But the competition for federal grant dollars proved intense. The Department of Transportation received grant applications from 57 airports seeking a combined $37 million in aid.

Fewer than one in every three of those requests was granted, for a collective total of $12.2 million to 18 airports.

Just one airport in Minnesota will be a grant recipient: Rochester International will use a $750,000 grant to add service to a to-be-named western destination.


In a prepared statement, Natalie Peterson, the Duluth Airport Authority's director of communications and marketing, wrote: "While we were not successful in this grant round, the support that we received from our regional partners was not just appreciated, but critical. The DOT has informed us that another grant cycle will be released this spring. We will be applying for this next SCASD grant round and will again focus on direct service to Denver due to the high demand this route has in our region."

The news of Duluth's unsuccessful grant request follows on the heels of another setback earlier this month. when American Airlines announced its affiliate, American Eagle, will end service between Duluth and Chicago O'Hare International Airport after April 27 .

Following American's departure from the Duluth market, the airport will be served by United Airlines, offering three daily nonstop flights to Chicago, and Delta Airlines, offering five daily nonstop flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Anna Tanski, president and CEO of Visit Duluth, said Duluth has benefited from having multiple airlines flying out of the city.

"We've been really fortunate to have the number of carriers that Duluth has seen this past year, and even though it's unfortunate that we're losing American (Airlines), there has been steady growth in the number of people flying DLH," she said. "Plus, just the competition alone has made it so much more affordable.

"So, the consumer definitely wins, and it makes it so much more of an attractive destination when it's just more affordable to get to and from Duluth," she said.

Tanski remains optimistic about Duluth International's future.

"We're not giving up of course," she said. "Visit Duluth is supporting these efforts for the airport, and we stand ready if and when that service does develop. The community got behind this, and I think we will make that push again.


"We certainly remain hopeful, because we know that the airlines have interest in this market, even though we're seeing American pull out. There are so many factors that go into play that this certainly isn't devastating. It's unfortunate, but we're very much behind the next push," she said.

Recipients of air service grants

The following cities were awarded SCASD grants in the latest round of funding:

  • Tuscaloosa, Alabama ($750,000);
  • Yuma, Arizona ($775,000);
  • Chico, California ($500,000);
  • Grand Junction, Colorado ($950,000);
  • Athens, Georgia ($750,000);
  • Dubuque, Iowa ($775,000);
  • Twin Falls, Idaho ($900,000);
  • Lake Charles, Louisiana ($200,000);
  • Rochester, Minnesota ($750,000);
  • Columbia, Missouri ($800,000);
  • Greenville, North Carolina ($750,000);
  • Atlantic City, New Jersey ($400,000);
  • Roswell, New Mexico ($750,000);
  • North Bend, Oregon ($750,000);
  • Erie, Pennsylvania ($292,000);
  • Abilene, Texas ($1 million);
  • St. George, Utah ($370,000);
  • Pullman, Washington ($780,000).

This story was updated at 6:40 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, with additional information. It was originally posted at 5:16 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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