Airline Weekly - Edward Russell

Dwindling air service to small cities across the U.S. is the result of changing airline economics, and not just the pilot shortage airlines face, long-time industry analyst William Swelbar said Wednesday.

“This is all about economics … it really is a lot more than pilots,” the chief industry analyst at the Swelbar-Zhong Consultancy said at a U.S. National Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington, D.C.

The high cost of flying small planes, which has increased dramatically along with so many other airline industry expenses, along with limited pilot resources, has contributed to network carriers American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines deciding to end flights to cities like New Haven, Conn., Toledo, Ohio, and Williamsport, Pa. Those air service losses have raised questions about the future of such service, both in the industry and Congress, and threatens what the Regional Airline Association (RAA) says is $152 billion in economic activity flights bring to small communities.

Small U.S. cities have been losing air service for decades. As planes grew in size, and fuel prices and other expenses rose, airline planners could not make the math work for destinations like Farmington, N.M., or Hickory, N.C. — last served by US Airways in 2008 and Delta in 2006, respectively, according to Cirium Diio schedules. The trend has accelerated as the industry emerged from the pandemic facing a pilot shortage (now focused on captains), higher costs, supply chain issues, and a more challenging operating environment.

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