Airline trends and the consequences of congressional demands on training have combined to make it more difficult to recruit pilots to regional markets and that is hampering facilities such as Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport.
Airport Director Barbara McNally said she found the report received at an air service development conference to be especially applicable to Lawton-Fort Sill, where the airport's governing board has worked hard in recent years to keep communication lines open with American Eagle, the carrier that links Lawton to Dallas-Fort Worth via daily flights.
Members of the Lawton Metropolitan Area Airport Authority have been pushing for additional flights to and from the airport, pointing to strong passenger levels, especially on weekends. McNally and the board also noted that enplanements (the number of passengers boarding flights in Lawton) were up in March, with more passengers in March 2016 than the airport has recorded since March 2012.
McNally said she has been told Lawton's load factors are so good American Eagle doesn't expect any changes in flights.
But, the number of flights are based on more than load factors. There also is the simple availability of flights and the pilots to fly them. McNally said the regional pilot issue, discussed at a conference she attended in late March, was especially interesting because of its focus on markets such as Lawton-Fort Sill.
Airport officials at Lawton and other regional facilities have long decried the problems of maintaining sufficient flights and major carriers have said the problem is caused, in part, by an inability to recruit and keep pilots to handle flights in regional markets.
McNally said part of the issue can be traced to changes implemented by the U.S. Congress in the aftermath of an airline crash in 2009 in New York. The crash of Colgan Air Flight 2407 was found to be inadequate response by the flight crew to a stall. The crash, which killed everyone on board and one person on the ground, led to the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act, which increased regulations governing pilot training.
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