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Delta's new Rochester flights take off Tuesday

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Delta Airlines is increasing service to Rochester
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The latest push to strengthen Rochester International Airport's flight offerings will take off on Tuesday.

Delta Air Lines will launch its daily nonstop flights to Atlanta and Detroit, which city and Mayo Clinic officials are lauding as a key step toward building more local ridership. These new flights originally were announced in May.

"We're very optimistic that the new schedule will be very well received by the community and the region," said Airport Executive Director Marty Lenss.

Lenss and other airport supporters see the daily flights to Atlanta, the world's busiest airport, as a particularly important addition to Rochester's offerings.

"These flights will serve as the proxy for the future air service conversations," said Lenss.

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The first flight from Rochester to Atlanta will take off Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. While the inaugural flight will be on a 50-seat plane, half of the flights will be on larger planes with 76 seats. Those larger aircraft will allow for both economy and first-class seating.

The main challenge in building ridership at Rochester's airport always has been the higher cost of flying out of Rochester versus the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. While these new flights are more expensive than flying from the Twin Cities, the cost difference has decreased to the point that the convenience of using the local airport may outweigh any savings.

A round trip ticket on Delta's Rochester-to-Atlanta flight on Tuesday costs $1,058 or $1,066 compared to $1,058 or $1,078 for the Minneapolis-to-Atlanta flight.

The same holds true for the new Detroit flight. Booking a round trip from Rochester to Detroit on Tuesday lists at $1,220, compared to $1,206 in Minneapolis.

Delta also still will offer two daily flights to Minneapolis. The additional flights will increase the airline's available seats by 12 percent, to more than 1,600. The new schedule rockets the number of one-stop destinations from Rochester up to 226 cities.

As part of the deal for Delta to make such an investment in Rochester, a $950,000 risk mitigation account was set up. It includes $500,000 in 2012 grant money from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which has a program that encourages airlines to provide direct flight service to more destinations. The Rochester City Council's match of $225,000 brings the mitigation fund to a total of $725,000. Private donations of $225,000 make up the rest of the fund.

Delta's revenue will be studied at the end of the first year to see if any of the fund money will be needed to make up any losses that Delta might incur.

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