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Big jets returning to Duluth airport in April

Jets to fly out of Duluth airport soon.

Beginning in April, big jets will again fly in and out of Duluth International Airport.

Five months after Delta Air Lines pulled its big planes from Duluth service and replaced them with smaller regional jets, the airline is bringing them back as it boosts the number of flights to the Twin Cities.

Delta is adding two flights to and from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport each day, increasing the number of its round trips to the Cities from five to seven daily, and boosting capacity by up to 200 passengers.

An improving economy and community support is the reason for increasing daily flights, said Karen Zachary, a Delta spokeswoman in Atlanta.

When Delta replaced its big jets with regional jets last fall as part of system-wide cutbacks, seats often were overbooked on Duluth flights.

"They don't have enough seats to meet demand," explained Brian Ryks, executive director of the Duluth Airport Authority. "They realized that."

The reduced passenger capacity contributed to a

15 percent drop in passengers at the Duluth airport in 2009. After Delta pulled its big jets, Duluth was left with no big jet service. Although United Airlines started service in Duluth in December, it also uses regional jets.

United has two flights daily from Duluth to Chicago, and Allegiant Air has twice-weekly service to Las Vegas and Orlando.

With the additional Delta flights and a return to big jets, passenger numbers should go up at the Duluth airport, Ryks said.

Beginning April 6, Delta will offer seven round trips daily between Duluth and the Twin Cities. Two of those will be on those DC-9s that seat 100, instead of regional jets that seat 50 or 76. Delta also has direct flights to Detroit but will continue to use regional jets.

Delta's new 7:20 p.m. flight from Minneapolis will fill a gap that left many at the Twin Cities airport, waiting three or four hours for connecting flights to Duluth, Ryks said.

"So this is big," he said.

Delta's added flights should increase competition among airlines serving Duluth, Ryks said.

"The trend we see when we have major competition with other airlines is more people using the Duluth International Airport, more flight options, and fares tend to be more competitive," he said.