Pilot shortage forces airlines to withdraw service from small towns

All of this should be completed in September.

American airlines (AAL), the only carrier with scheduled service to Dubuque, is dropping routes due to a lack of pilots needed to staff the regional jets serving the airport. The airline is also dropping service to Islip, New York, east Long Island, Ithaca, New York, the northern home of Cornell University, and Toledo, Ohio, for the same reason. He called the moves a “difficult decision”.

For most residents and businesses using Dubuque Airport, the primary alternative will be a three-hour drive to Chicago O’Hare Airport, which is anything but easy to navigate or cheaply park. Much of the drive is not even on interstate highways.

In addition to making travel more difficult, this decision is a serious blow to the commercial prospects of the city and its surroundings.

“It’s certainly disappointing. Obviously air service is important to the business community,” said Molly Grove, CEO of the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce. “They depend on it to attract talent, or for talent to fly off to other companies. The time saved by not having to drive somewhere, you can’t beat it.”

But Dubuque and the other affected airports are not alone. It’s a problem that’s affecting more and more cities, and it’s likely to become a growing concern in the coming years, experts say. United (LAU) and Delta (DAL)the other two major airlines, which use a hub-and-spoke network based on regional jets, are also reducing service to some of the smaller airports they serve.
Despite efforts by airlines to hire more pilots, the shortage in the United States is expected to worsen further. And this will be especially true for regional airlines flying to these smaller cities on behalf of major carriers. It is mainly these pilots who are hired to fly the larger jets.

Moreover, this problem is not simply the result of the disruptions to the American airline industry caused by the pandemic and the resulting flood of early retirements.

“Communities have lost air service for most of the last decade,” said Faye Malarkey Black, CEO of the Regional Airline Association. “You don’t have to lose all of your service to lose connectivity to the system. When you lose a lot of your frequency, companies won’t want to set up shop in one place.”

RAA statistics show that two dozen markets served by regional airports have lost half their service in the past three years – and that does not include rounds of cuts expected later this year. Another 42 markets lost between a third and a half of the service during this period.

But Malarkey Black said the pilot shortage has left carriers with no option but to cut service. There are hundreds of regional jets currently parked.

“We don’t have all the pilots to operate all these planes,” she said. “There are fewer pilots entering the profession than leaving. It’s a great job. The problem is that there are huge barriers to entry and [it’s] limited to those wealthy enough to pay for the training.”

Although Malarkey Black has said she thinks changes can be made to loan opportunities and other resources to bring more pilots into the field, other experts say they don’t think the trend will continue. will reverse.

“Regional jets exist for a reason. It’s not going away. But the economics of flight are changing,” said Jim Corridore, chief knowledge officer for research firm Similarweb. “There are fuel costs, wage pressures. The economics of flying are changing. Some cities just won’t be profitable.”

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