14 airports have lost all commercial air service in the past three years, and 324 small airports have seen losses of air service averaging 30%.
While the long run trend is fewer non-stop flights in small markets, large hubs have made it economical for airlines to serve many of these markets with a connection. Now we’re seeing fewer – and in some cases no – connections.
The primary (though not only) reason for this is successful lobbying efforts by the Air Line Pilots Association – the major pilot union – that has limited the supply of pilots and driven up their wages. The goal of ALPA is to make it hard to become a pilot, so that airlines can’t replace them.
- 1500 hour rule. No other country requires so much unstructured time, unrelated to safety, in order to become a commercial pilot. After the Colgan Air crash – where the pilots were at fault but had over 1500 hours (!) legislators were looking to ‘do something’ that appeared to enhance safety and ALPA was ready with ‘something’. It was self-serving.
- Retirement age. Commercial pilots have to retire at age 65. Medical care has advanced, and so has medical screening. We can test vision, mental acuity, and reflexes. Pilots go through physicals that include checking heart, lungs, nervous system, blood pressure and more. We know if they’re healthy or not but have an arbitrary cutoff age. To be sure, may pilots want to retire at 65. Some of them go on to fly at air service providers can support pilots at an older age. But there’s safety reason for an arbitrary cutoff.
Airlines made a strategic blunder during the pandemic, expecting travel to take longer to recover. The federal government provided commercial airlines with subsidies to keep all of their employees attached the airline and ready to fly. However many of them paid pilots to take early retirement, using taxpayer funds for the opposite of its purpose (though complying with legislative language as-written, no surprise since airlines were part of writing it).
So airlines shed pilots, they weren’t training more pilots, and now there’s a shortage that’s difficult to recover from. Major airlines can attract pilots, but they’re pulling people out of the regionals who have a much harder time. And it’s those regionals that predominantly served small cities with smaller aircraft.
Regional carrier Southern has a plan to operate 9 seat aircraft to small cities which allows them to use co-pilots with fewer hours. SkyWest has a plan, too. And ALPA blows a gasket every time an airline tries to operate under current rules in a way that expands the pool of available pilots.
ALPA says there’s no pilot shortage. This isn’t true. Tucker Carlson says the problem is too much diversity, which also isn’t true. The problem is simple, government rules make it so difficult, time-consuming and expensive to become a pilot – largely to line the pockets of current pilots – that we don’t have enough people who are allowed to fly planes to serve small airports.
(HT: Paul H)