Monday, May 05, 2014

Small airports have fewer flights; pilots' group blames low pilot salaries, but there are other causes

Rural residents who want to travel by air now have to drive longer distances to catch a flight. Rising fuel costs, declining rural populations and the allure of larger airports in bigger cities have caused the number of flights to small communities to rapidly decline since 2007, according to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. (News-Journal photo by Michael Cavazos: An airplane at East Texas Regional Airport in Longview, Texas)

From 2007 to 2013, the number of flights to medium-sized hubs dropped by 23.9 percent and the number of seats fell 18.5 percent. Small airports with scheduled service saw the number of flights decreased 20.1 percent—and the number of seats shrink by 15.3 percent. In comparison, larger airports had 9.1 percent fewer flights and 7 percent fewer seats.

"Major air carriers have also steered away from using the types of planes that serve smaller communities, regional airliners that seat from 19 to 100 passengers," reports the News-Journal in Longview, Tex. Instead of using those planes, which are "40 to 60 percent less fuel-efficient on a per-passenger basis than larger planes used to service big airports, major carriers are packing medium-size airliners with as many passengers as possible, operating planes that are on average 88 percent full."

"Regional airlines, which typically feed passengers from smaller airports to major carriers at larger airports, have proven less adaptable," the Journal reports. "Bryan Bedford, president and CEO of Republic Airways Holdings, a regional carrier that flew 21.5 million passengers last year, said economic pressures on regional airlines have been exacerbated by a shortage of entry-level airline pilots."

Republic said it couldn't fill 500 pilot openings, forcing the grounding of 27 regional airliners, but Air Line Pilots Association President Lee Moak told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee "there’s no shortage of qualified airline pilots, only a shortage of pilots willing to work for the 'near poverty' wages that regional airlines offer entry-level first officers." (Read more)

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