April 2, 2018

The New Realities of Small Community Air Access

Shock. Outrage. Denunciations.

That’s pretty much a description of civic leaders at communities where the local airport is now devoid of scheduled flights, due to the shutdown of Great Lakes Airlines.

They resemble Captain Louis Renault’s famous line in Casablanca. They are shocked!

Shocked to find local air service was headed into goodbye gear. They should have seen this coming, and they did nothing to deal with what caused Great Lakes to go under.

We’re talking about the Sacred Scripture. The Dogma of Truth, a.k.a., the 1,500-hour requirement for entry to the commercial pilot profession. It is the direct result (or more accurately, reaction) to the crash of Continental Express flight 3407 in 2009.

Nails In Already-Inevitable Air Service Coffins. This pilot-experience requirement is the direct and proximate cause of places like Prescott and Cheyenne now finding themselves with no scheduled passenger flights at the local airport, and even less chance of a major airline brand coming to town.

It’s also a reason that local airports at places like Naples, Topeka, Youngstown, and others may as well howl at the moon (instead of tossing money on more “studies”) in regard to attracting viable, long-term connective air service from a major airline system at the local airport.

One main reason is that local consumers at these cities already have far better air access options than what can be supported at the local airport. So not having flights at the local gates isn’t the major economic hit that civic leaders think it is.

The hard fact is that for airports such as these, the “pilot shortage” has only accelerated the inevitable, and put an earlier nail in the local air service coffin.

So, let’s call it for what it is. It’s not a shortage.

It’s the new economics of air transportation. It’s the new structure of air transportation in the US. Regionalization of air access was already an emerging dynamic – and now “regionalization” of pilot resources has accelerated this process.

A Rule With No Positive Benefits. The sad fact is that the 1,500 hour requirement is worshipped and aggressively-protected, regardless of the truth that were it in effect when the flight 3407 accident occurred, it would not have made any difference whatsoever to the outcome of that tragic night.

Both of the pilots of that aircraft had more than 1,500 hours, and this now-in-sacred-stone requirement in itself addresses none of the core findings of the NTSB report on flight 3407.

Regardless, the 1,500 hour requirement has become a third rail nobody dares touch, apparently. No other alternatives are to be discussed. Those that even suggest such things are burned at the stake of public opinion – they are the anti-safety, money-grubbing running dogs of greedy airlines.

Don’t Dare Criticize The Scripture. So, this is the situation, and the air transportation system will adjust. And constrict. It seems nobody wants to stand front and center and call for exploration of viable alternatives.

  • The now oh-so-outraged civic leaders decrying the demise of GLA should have seen this coming. Instead, they sat on their hands, not offering to help support exploration of alternatives to the 1,500 hour rule.
  • Most politicians avoid discussing it. One nudnik congresswoman actually stated that because there have been no fatal accidents since the rule was implemented, it proves it has increased safety.
  • Even a recent “task force” set up by the DOT to explore “solutions” to small community air service failed to take the 1,500 rule on. Instead, there were several pages that wallowed around suggesting other methods of meeting the rule, but not much along the lines of clearly stating that it needed to be completely reconsidered.

Constriction of Viable Air Service Demand. Loss of scheduled flights at points with almost no passengers isn’t a huge hit.

More damaging, however, is the reduced ability of major airline systems to access hub flows from midsize “small” airports, directly because they do not have sufficient pilot resources.

At extreme risk are airports with roughly 500,000 to one million enplanements. They have viable traffic, but their economies are threatened by the inability of major airline systems to adequately access this revenue due to limited pilot resources. This is a threat that local civic leaders can ignore at their peril.

Let’s state it. The 1,500 hour rule has not in itself increased air safety. But it is doing a great job of constricting economic growth and global access across the US.

There are better ways to be explored. But the discussions of such are simply not tolerated.

That’s the situation.