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New US regional data shows air service crisis

The United States’ Regional Airline Association (RAA), whose members provide 43% of the nation’s scheduled passenger flights, is flagging that the ongoing, severe pilot shortage has led to diminished or lost air service at 76% of US airports.

In recent months as US regional airlines have continued to fill cockpit seats, Envoy Air, Piedmont Airlines (pictured is Piedmont’s recruitment campaign strategy advertisement) and PSA Airlines have each offered $100,000 signing bonuses to attract qualified pilots.

“We now have more than 500 regional aircraft parked without pilots to fly them and an associated air service retraction at 324 communities,” said Faye Malarkey Black, RAA chief executive. “Fourteen airports have lost all scheduled commercial air service – a number that is still rising.”

The pilot shortage previously led to contraction of the regional airline industry over a decade, with a corresponding reduction in air service to small and medium-sized communities. The total number of airports with service declined by 5% between 2009 and today. Those airports retaining air service saw diminished frequency with fewer destinations. These trends are accelerating; between 2019 and 2022, 161 US airports lost more than one in four of their commercial flights.

The FAA has certificated an average of 6,335 airline-qualified pilots each year since 2013, while the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) predicts 18,100 yearly commercial airline pilot openings over the next decade. A higher-than-usual number of pilots qualified in 2022 due to resumption of covid-disrupted qualifications, yet the industry is still short of more than 8,000 pilots.

With hundreds more aircraft expected to be parked without resolution, the RAA is warning of another wave of devastating air service loss.

“We are on the precipice of a wholesale collapse of small community air service,” noted Black. “It has already begun, with 60 US airports losing more than half their air service since 2019. Every policymaker in the Administration and Congress must set aside politics and address this crisis today.”

Airline industry officials have been implementing measures to support future pilots, but a lack of training access blocks the career for many – particularly those without wealth. The RAA itself offers several solutions to make pilot careers more equitable, like improved student loans for flight education and urges the FAA to make data-driven decisions on additional, advanced training pathways allowed under current law. “The bottom line is that more structured training leads to better pilots, and RAA and its member airlines only want solutions that lead to safer pilots,” she noted.

Black additionally urged policymakers to take a multimodal approach to transportation safety. “Without reliable air service, displaced airline passengers become highway drivers, where the traffic fatality rate is soaring.”

See the new aviation data compiled by RAA here.

Read: Piedmont offers $100,000 up front bonus for experienced pilots

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