Photo credit: SkyWest CRJ Flickr / Caribb
SkyWest Airlines notified the U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday of its intent to end flights to 29 cities within 90 days. All of the destinations are served under the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, which provides subsidies to airlines to fly to smaller destinations that cannot support commercial flights on their own.
The regional carrier, which operates to the 29 cities for United Airlines, blamed the worsening pilot shortage for dropping the routes.
Only one of the affected destinations — Clarksburg, W.V. — is served by another airline, Allegiant Air, according to Cirium schedules. SkyWest serves the balance as United Express, though most are flown “at risk” — or without the financial backing of United.
A SkyWest spokesperson said the cuts are the result of “an ongoing pilot staffing imbalance across the industry.”
“We are eager to work with officials toward solutions that would enable us to reconnect these communities to the national air transportation system in the future,” the spokesperson said. “We are committed to remaining flexible and adjusting our plans if the situation improves more quickly than currently expected.”
U.S. airlines face a growing shortage of pilots. According to a recent Oliver Wyman report, the industry could be short as many as 12,000 pilots in 2023. The shortfall already is being felt by regional airlines, which are losing crew members to major carriers that have stepped up their hiring as the industry emerges from the pandemic.
Executives at major airlines and regional carriers alike have warned that the shortfall could result in communities losing air service. However, prior to SkyWest’s notice on Thursday, no city had lost all of its commercial flights. American, Delta, and United have mostly resorted to cutting routes and trimming schedules.
Speaking at a Raymond James conference on March 8, SkyWest Chief Financial Officer Rob Simmons said the airline does not expect the situation to improve for 12-18 months. This echos the mid-2023 timeline that Republic Airways Chief Financial Officer Joseph Allman outlined at the ISTAT Americas conference the same day.
The affected cities include: Alamosa and Pueblo, Colo.; Cape Girardeau, Fort Leonard Wood, and Joplin, Mo.; Decatur, Ill.; Devils Lake and Jamestown, N.D.; Dodge City, Hays, Liberal, and Salina, Kan.; Eau Claire, Wis.; Fort Dodge, Mason City, and Sioux City, Iowa; Hattiesburg and Meridian, Miss.; Houghton and Muskegon, Mich.; Johnstown, Pa.; Kearney, North Platte, and Scottsbluff, Neb.; Lewisburg, W.V.; Paducah, Ky.; Shenandoah Valley, Va.; and Victoria, Texas.