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Pilot shortage hammers service to smaller airports, too

SkyWest Airlines is ending service at the Victoria Regional Airport in Texas.
Cliff from Arlington, Virginia, USA
Wikimedia Commons
SkyWest Airlines is ending service at the Victoria Regional Airport in Texas.

Victoria, Texas, along with dozens of other communities, may lose the only carrier that serves its airport.

From Texas Standard:

Earlier this month, regional carrier SkyWest Airlines announced plans to leave 29 markets across the country, including Victoria, Texas.

SkyWest is the only carrier that serves the Victoria Regional Airport. The move is part of a broader recent decline in service to smaller airports.

Taylor Rains covers aviation for Insider. She talked to Texas Standard about how regional airports and carriers have been affected by the pandemic.

Listen to the interview with Rains in the audio player above or read the highlights below:

– A pilot shortage is one reason carriers are pulling out of smaller markets. There was already a pilot shortage before the pandemic, and the pandemic exacerbated the problem.

– Also, carriers say smaller markets just aren't profitable, nor that they have an obligation to serve those communities if it doesn't make business sense.

"There's not necessarily a civic responsibility to serve [these markets] so, if these airlines see unprofitability because of high surcharges at these small airports, high fuel prices, high labor prices, they just simply will pull out," Rains said.

– It's also harder for new pilots to get jobs on regional routes because they require more hours of training, which can be expensive.

– Some airlines are creating regional pilot-training programs to bring more new pilots into the pipeline.

– Losing air service can damage local economies, so Rain says some communities are paying airlines not to leave. Stillwater, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State University are spending $4 million over two years to keep American Airlines flights running there.

"And so there are cities that are actually paying those airlines to stay because the loss of losing them is far greater than what it would be to just pay them to keep flying there," Rains said.

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Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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