Our travel plans have more than once been messed up by Alaska Airlines’ reduced flight schedule out of Medford. The Mail Tribune reported the changes by Alaska flights were because its regional partner Horizon Air had a pilot shortage. Are there other airlines having trouble finding pilots?
— Ed K., via email
The pilot shortage has plagued a variety of airlines, both at home and abroad, partly because of regulatory changes and partly because of poor planning.
Even though the Federal Aviation Administration raised the mandatory retirement age for pilots from 60 to 65 in 2009, it hasn’t stemmed the cockpit exit. After a commuter jet crash in Buffalo in 2009, the FAA and Congress increased the number of hours required to pursue an Air Transport Pilot rating from 250 hours to 1,500 hours, slowing the flow of incoming pilots.
Regional commuter airlines connecting passengers with major market hubs have often suffered.
Most recently, Great Lakes Airlines, based in Cheyenne, Wyoming, ceased scheduled commercial operations March 26, grounding a fleet of 28 Beechcraft 1900Ds and six Embraer 120 Brasilias. Great Lakes Airlines made a point of saying it was not entering bankruptcy. Other regional airlines have sought court protection. Last year, Republic Airways, a regional partner of United, American and Delta, filed for Chapter 11 protection, blaming, in part, a lack of qualified pilots.
SeaPort Airlines reduced its route network prior to filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Feb. 5, 2016. The company eventually went out of business and converted to Chapter 7 liquidation that September.
Irish discounter Ryanair had to cancel 18,000 flights last year when scores of pilots defected to another airline. Ryanair blamed the problem on vacation schedules, bad weather, air traffic control delays and strikes.
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