In June of next year, Atlanta will become the seventh major hub that Rapid City fliers can connect to, according to the Rapid City Regional Airport.
With Atlanta being the farthest option east, the list of direct flights from Rapid City now includes Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Denver, Chicago and Minneapolis.
A 65-passenger jet will leave Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport at 9:40 a.m. on Saturdays, landing in Rapid City at around 10:58 a.m. The jet will return to Atlanta at noon and land around 5:04 p.m.
"The (airport) board staff and the Black Hills Air Service Partnership have been specifically looking for non-stop connections to some of the world's largest hubs," Airport Director Cameron Humphres said Monday. "That's been our objective. The nation runs on a hub-and-spoke air traffic system. Anytime an airport can connect to more hubs, it offers more travel options for passengers from the Black Hills area and those coming to the Black Hills."
Airport Board of Directors President Lisa Modrick said Atlanta is an option that the Black Hills partnership, the airport board and the community sought through Delta Airlines.
Modrick said with the merger of Delta Airlines and Northwest Airlines, Atlanta is considered one of busiest airport hubs in the world in terms of passenger numbers and daily flights. The airport connects to 207 destinations worldwide, 61 international destinations and 43 countries.
"It really puts us into that southern and eastern market that we haven’t been before,” she said Monday. "Atlanta is a huge hub for the southern countries, South America, as well as going abroad to Europe and Asia. That links and secures our airport and it puts us in a fantastic position for travel.”
Humphres said airlines typically require a commitment of daily flights throughout the year, but the Rapid City Regional Airport had been encouraging Delta to try a weekly flight plan to test the waters.
"The airlines, the bottom line for them, a route has to be profitable," he said.
If proven successful, Modrick said additional flights could be added throughout the week.
Humphres said similar success has been achieved with American Airlines through direct flights to Dallas and United Airlines when it expanded service between Chicago and Rapid City.
He said United Airlines is now testing the Houston route's success, which was offered for a second summer in June.
"It's one of the things that's right on top of our list," Humphres said of efforts to add more flight options. "It's a continual process for us."