BLOOMINGTON — The Bloomington-Normal area and its burgeoning automaker got some good news Monday when it was announced Delta Air Lines flights to Detroit Metropolitan Airport will resume earlier than anticipated.
The flights, which were suspended in mid-December due to a worker shortage in the airline industry, were originally expected to last through the first quarter of the new year. However, the airline will resume those flights Feb. 6.
The flights will operate six days a week on 50-seat CRJ-200 regional jets.
Carl Olson, executive director of Central Illinois Regional Airport, said resumption of the flights will benefit Rivian, the electric vehicle maker that took over the former Mitsubishi Motors plant in Normal.
With headquarters in Southern California, Rivian also has “significant traffic” to its offices in Auburn Hills, Mich., outside Detroit, Olson said.
“It’s critically important not just for Rivian, but it also provides a convenient alternative for big city airports like Chicago connecting to Europe and Asia as well as major destinations on the East Coast such as Washington, New York and Boston," he said.
Olson said airport officials see the announcement as a good sign that Delta has confidence in the route, which was started in October 2020, as well as the Bloomington-Normal market.
The former Mitsubishi plant, which spanned 2.6 million square feet, closed in 2015. Under Rivian, the plant will expand to close to 4 million square feet and will become the cities' second-largest employer with about 4,000 workers, trailing only State Farm. (At its peak under Mitsubishi, the plant employed about 3,000.)
Rivian manufactures three vehicles — a truck, an SUV and a delivery vehicle. Amazon has ordered 100,000 of the latter.
Pandemic-related challenges have severely affected the airline industry with passenger demand dropping in the spring 2020 before beginning to recover last summer. Alan Sender, chairman of the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority, which owns and operates the Central Illinois Regional Airport, said Delta has continued to monitor demand trends and adjusted flight schedules accordingly.
“Collaborating with our partners at Rivian, we were able to clearly identify the ongoing need for the Detroit service to Delta,” Sender said.
He said Rivian’s December announcement that it will build its next manufacturing facility near Atlanta, which is the site of Delta’s primary hub airport, “highlighted the synergies between the three markets of Atlanta, Detroit and Bloomington-Normal.”
“We are delighted the service will return sooner than expected,” Sender said.