Prior to June 2014, residents of Klamath Falls in south-central Oregon had access to one flight daily to San Francisco and Portland from the Crater Lake Klamath Regional Airport.
But in that month, United Express, in conjunction with flight operator SkyWest, ended the flights, leaving the seat of Klamath County, population 65,000, without commercial air service.
The reason SkyWest said it was making the move, according to airport director John Barsalou, was because the regional carrier was in the midst of phasing out its 30-seat, twin-engine Embraer 120 Brasilia fleet, a process the carrier completed last year. But Klamath Falls couldn’t generate enough demand to support the 50-seat planes that were to remain in SkyWest’s fleet.
Barsalou said the Klamath Falls community also believed another factor was at play: Service on the San Francisco flight had become less reliable due to a pilot shortage that is impacting regional airlines throughout the U.S.
Eighteen months later, Klamath Falls is still without commercial airline service, meaning residents of the area must drive 70 miles through a tricky mountain pass to Medford, Ore., or go several hours farther to Reno or Portland to catch a flight.
Meanwhile, said Klamath County Chamber of Commerce executive director Charles Massey, the loss of the airport has strained the Klamath County economy and has led the building products maker Jeld-Wen to increase the pace with which it is transferring employees from the area to its North American headquarters in Charlotte, N.C.
“Their sales representatives are no longer based here in Klamath because they can’t get out of the community as easily,” Massey said.
The challenges faced by Klamath Falls are not unique. Since the second quarter of 2013, 29 small airports in the continental U.S. have lost commercial service, according to a list provided by the trade group American Association of Airport Executives. All were in small towns like Port Angeles, Wash., and resort towns such as Telluride, Colo. Bigger communities, such as Athens, Ga., have also lost their commercial air service.
Even towns and cities that qualify for federally subsidized flights through the Essential Air Service (EAS) program have not been immune. EAS communities Macon, Ga.; Vernal and Moab, Utah; Muscle Shoals, Ala.; and Tupelo, Miss., all lost their commercial service over the past 15 months.
As was the case in Klamath, the closures are being partially driven by the pilot shortage that is plaguing regional U.S. airlines. Recruitment competition from growing, higher-paying foreign carriers, such as Emirates, is one cause of the shortage. But a bigger issue is a congressionally mandated rule that took effect in 2013 that increased the minimum time a pilot must have in the cockpit in order to fly for a commercial airline from 250 hours to 1,500 hours.
One issue that is expected to exacerbate the problem will be the retirement of an estimated 13,000 to 15,000 pilots between now and 2022 at American, Delta, Southwest and United. That’s nearly as many pilots as staff the entire regional U.S. network, which also serves as the predominant recruiting network for the mainline carriers…Fuente: http://www.travelweekly.com/Travel-News/Airline-News/As-pilot-deficit-grows-so-does-demise-of-US-regional-airports/?cid=eltrdb