Changing the Way We Think About Small Community Air Service
The data are clear: without changes to the structural issues that have caused the reversal of small community air service over the last decade, even more communities will face a reduction in flights. The pilot supply, a changing U.S. airline industry, and new regulations have led small communities to the breaking point. There will be airports that will see a total discontinuation of commercial service as a result of these trends, if they are not addressed today.
RASA encourages lawmakers and stakeholders to change the way we think about small community air service:
- Acknowledge that one size does not fit all in the airport sector. Solutions that work for large-hub airports will be ill-suited for smaller communities. Small airports do not have the luxury of worrying only about increases in Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs): structural issues in the U.S. air transportation network also leave their service at risk.
- Modernize the financial relationship between the government and airports. Airports should have more flexibility in using federal funds to attract and retain commercial air service, and existing programs should be brought up to date to avoid unintended consequences of dated regulation.
- Appreciate that small market aircraft technology needs to be re-engineered. There is currently no replacement to the 50-seat regional jet in the pipeline, and some markets will never be able to support 76-seat service. There is a desperate need for manufacturers, airlines, and communities to work together to find a sustainable solution to the gauge issue.
- Concede that the U.S. commercial aviation marketplace has changed and that any improvements must adapt to the new construct. Gone are the days when small communities would be linked multiple times a day with each major airline’s hub. That service is gone, and is not coming back. Solutions to small community air service challenges must be made with current airline industry trends in mind.
- Consider how Federal Government policies could facilitate better investment in rebuilding the nation’s pilot supply. New regulations have exacerbated a supply crunch in pilots worldwide. Regional airlines are competing with international carriers who are also facing a shortage of pilots. The pilot shortage is already being cited as a primary reason why communities are losing service.
When the industry was deregulated, government programs were made available to enable a regional industry to incubate, grow, and prosper. Loan guarantees for pilot training should be considered, and external constraints like the 1500-hour rule should be reconsidered to increase the attractiveness of a career for young pilots. Safety is, and should remain, paramount. But steps must be taken to reverse the growing pilot crisis before more communities lose service.
Airports large and small should present a unified voice behind these issues to encourage the structural change that is needed to protect the economic development that commercial air service provides to small communities. Join RASA² and make your community’s voice heard as we advocate for these issues.