Monday, March 17, 2014

Pilot Shortage Hurting More Airports

Great Lakes Airlines will suspend its flights to and from McCook's Ben Nelson Regional Airport starting April 1st. The only way they will be able to resume service by April 27th is if Great Lakes figures out a new plan or a different airline bids on McCook's route.

"If you're going to ask me is it going to affect our service, is it going to affect us next, it's possible," said Mike Sharkey, the North Platte Airport manager.

Sharkey has been with the North Platte airport for 14 years. He said business has slowed down dramatically since November. They used to average about 900 passengers a month but in January that number dropped to about 410.

The main concern is the pilot shortage which has affected the number of flights the airport services. .

"Before this started we had four flights a day. Four round trips. Starting about 6:30 in the morning and the last one would come in around 9:30 at night. So that's been reduced to one, " he said.

After a fatal crash of a regional airliner 5 years ago on the East Coast, Congress demanded changes in legislation requiring captains and co–pilots to have 1500 hours of flight time and an ATP or an Airline Transport pilot rating, which is deterring a pool of new pilots..

"It's not just 1500 hours its specialized time.So you cant get into the right seat of a King Air, and fly around for 1500 and it might take you 3–4 K hours. So by the time you have that many hours and you have an ATP, you're way up in the salary scale food chain and to where you're not going to ride in the right seat of a small commuter," Sharkey said.

Congressman Adrian Smith said he's talked with FAA officials directly to discuss the implications the regulations have on local airports.

"The seven essential airports around the 3rd district, around the 75 counties of the third district, these are important to the communities to that they exist... We want a system that's reliable in terms of safety and we want a system with reliable service because if we don't see a system with reliable service "

North Platte Airport's contract with Great Lakes airline is ending at the end of this year.

Sharkey says they are currently talking with other airlines that are not affected by the shortage who may take on North Platte's route.