Rochester International Airport passenger service takes a big step forward in a few days with the start of Elite Airways flights to two southern destinations: Phoenix and St. Augustine, Fla.

Elite, headquartered in Portland, Maine, will offer twice-a-week service beginning July 19 to the two cities, which have the advantage of a close proximity of Mayo Clinic key facilities — in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Jacksonville, Fla. This factor, of course, was a prime reason for Elite operating here, with both destinations expected to draw heavily from Mayo Clinic personnel and the Rochester business community, in addition to their attraction to warm weather-seeking vacationers.

The Elite Airways flights bring RST’s passenger service closer to the peak service offered a decade ago or so. The new airline joins Delta, American and United daily operations at RST, which offer 13 daily flights to Atlanta, Chicago and Minneapolis. Counting Elite’s schedule will bring the total of daily flight operation total to 17, with 15 destinations possible. These totals are the most in several years by regularly scheduled carriers.

Daily seat capacity is another way of comparing service. The number of daily seats available from RST peaked 10 years ago, in 2008, with 755 seats available. Counting Elite’s daily payload capacity, the new figure — when service begins July 21 — will be 700, the closest to the peak since then.

After 2008, airline service here and throughout smaller and midsize airports slumped badly. The low in available seats here was in 2015 when the total was 407.

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Airline service diminished beginning in the 1980s.

"It was a different industry then," said John Reed, RST’s executive director. "Airlines were competing on market share and not revenue. Aircraft sizes have changed, fuel prices have changed, airlines have gone throughs bankruptcies and consolidations. Today it is a new and highly competitive industry, and airlines have to compete for vital resources in pilots and planes."

Added Tina O’Connor, marketing and communications manager for the Rochester Airport Co., the operating arm at RST, "Rochester International is seeing its current success due to our community and region placing a high importance on choosing to Fly Local." The Fly Local has been a highly effective marketing tool among local businesses.

Elite’s first flight on July 19 will be to Phoenix. Flights to Phoenix are scheduled for Sundays and Thursdays. Flights to St. Augustine, which begin July 20, are set for Mondays and Fridays. Elite operates a fleet of Bombarder CRJ-200s and CRJ-700s.