Days after SkyWest announced that it would end service to 29 cities due to an ongoing pilot shortage, the U.S. Department of Transportation has blocked the plan, arguing the carrier must continue to serve each city until a replacement is found.
U.S. Blocks SkyWest From Ending Flights To 29 EAS Cities
SkyWest is facing an unprecedented pilot shortage as cargo, foreign, and mainline carriers recruit young pilots, offering them better pay to fly larger aircraft. Flight cancellations were common during busy periods in 2021 and SkyWest is attempting to prevent this in 2022 by proactively reducing or eliminating loss-leading routes.
But there’s a complication: the 29 routes routes that SkyWest has proposed to cut are all part of the U.S. Essential Air Service (EAS) program. The EAS brings air service to smaller U.S. communities by offering subsidies in exchange for service. Even with subsidies, however, SkyWest announced it could not continue, noting it would cut service to the following airports on June 8, 2022:
- Alamosa, CO (ALS)
- Cape Girardeau, MO (CGI)
- Clarksburg, WV (CKB)
- Decatur, IL (DEC)
- Devils Lake, ND (DVL)
- Dodge City, KS (DDC)
- Eau Claire, WI (EAU)
- Fort Dodge, IA (FOD)
- Fort Leonard Wood, MO (FLW)
- Hattiesburg, MS (PIB)
- Hays, KS (HYS)
- Houghton, MI (CMX)
- Jamestown, ND (JMS)
- Johnstown, PA (JST)
- Joplin, MO (JLN)
- Kearney, NE (EAR)
- Lewisburg, WV (LWB)
- Liberal, KS (LBL)
- Mason City, IA (MCW)
- Meridian, MS (MEI)
- Muskegon, MI (MKG)
- North Platte, NE (LBF)
- Paducah, KY (PAH)
- Pueblo, CO (PUB)
- Salina, KS (SLN)
- Scottsbluff, NE (BFF)
- Shenandoah, VA (SHD)
- Sioux City, IA (SUX)
- Victoria, TX (VCT)
Despite providing 90-days notice, the plan was blocked by the DOT, who responded that SkyWest cannot terminate service before July 8, 2022 and “and for additional 30-day periods as necessary.” For its part, SkyWest says it is “eager to work with officials toward solutions that would enable us to reconnect these communities to the National Air Transportation System in the future, and we are committed to remaining flexible and adjusting our plans if the situation improves more quickly than currently expected.”
But flight cancellations on these routes will continue – United Airlines’ CEO Scott Kirby has noted that 100 regional are already effectively grounded in the United Express due to the pilot shortage.
SkyWest has been barred from officially ending service to 29 EAS airports this summer, but that doesn’t mean the flights will operate. Without an influx of pilots, instead of being cancelled in advance many of these flights will simply be cancelled or delayed on the day of departure.
If essential air service is so essential, let them pay for it. No reason for this to be a federal issue.
Nice free market capitalism we have there.
Free market capitalism doesn’t mean private parties can do whatever the hell they want. SkyWest sought out some nice juicy federal contracts and agreed to the terms therein. Now that they’re asking for backsies. Well, not asking, just saying they’re going to ignore the rules of the contract they signed.
Do you have any idea how anything works?
Live by the sword, die by the sword. If you want a sweet sweet government deal, you cannot later make decisions based on the idea that it’s “just business”. No, it’s government aid so those rules don’t apply. You made a deal and now you’re stuck with it. LMAO at SkyWest this morning – for thinking that they can just tap into the EAS deal and then walk when it becomes inconvenient. That’s what happens when you make deals with the devil. Hahaha.
all these airlines took free govt BILLIONS! this idiot Kirby allowed pilots to RETIRE early!! It his fault!!! Airline mgmt cant think past there BISCOFF cookie!! Its a pilot shortage HE CREATED!! He couldnt manage an APPLEBEES!
It wasn’t that long ago that I was approached by Boutique Air (4B) as they were up against Skywest bidding for the ALS EAS route. As a satisfied customer, I lobbied on behalf of the appropriately named higher frequency regional carrier over the jet alternative with a much less frequent schedule. Turns out it didn’t help enough but maybe it’s a good reminder to these communities that they often get overpromised and underdelivered.
I wonder if they could continue the flights operated by a bus, like Continental’s Allentown to Newark before? Or fly once a week? Or charge $5000 per seat, hope there are no takers and cancel that day’s flight?
Many of these EAS cities are not very far from larger city airports. I wonder if the flights fly to a larger city close by or fly further to an airport that is more of a hub. Maybe the daily frequency could be cut in light of the pilot shortage but if SkyWest wants to cancel flights beyond that maybe hardball tactics of pulling their certificate to transport all passengers could be used. I’m sure that if their viability was threatened that they could do at least part of the job that they contracted for.
I did some checking on a few locations in Kansas. For example Salina, KS has flights to Denver and Chicago (as far as I could tell) but none to Kansas City which is much closer and has many continuing flight options. Maybe this is part of the problem, connections that are further than they need to be that take extra pilot hours. Maybe the efficiency of the EAS program needs to be looked at in lower flight boarding cities.
Take the example of UA at EAU. UA pulled out of CWA and with it those CWA passengers had to make their way to EAU, GRB, or MSN instead if not going deep-diving into MSP, MKE, or even ORD. When an airline pulls out of EAU, that means even those CWA passengers who were counting on EAU are left out even more than they already were by a withdrawal from their “home” airport. Of course the airlines don’t really care and try to have their cake and eat it too.
Sounds like a much of federal pork/welfare for mostly red states…
The consequences of living on tthe corporate welfare rolls of the US Government is that the airline deserves its due from the government too.
The DOT should be careful. Skywest and other regional airlines that fly jets are not going to want to bid on these EAS contracts in the future if they can never get out of them. And people in these small towns benefit way more from a 50-seat RJ flight that is branded as United or Delta or American than they do from a 9-seat turboprop flight that isn’t part of a major airline’s network.
The EAS program should really be eliminated or cut back only to places where it really is essential, like small communities in rural Alaska where the distances are enormous (and sometimes there aren’t even roads). It makes no sense to subsidize air service to random small towns in the Midwest where there’s another airport a 2-hour drive away. But rural America is massively over-represented in the Senate, so I doubt this will happen.
I’ve never heard of a single one of these cities. I guess I really am a coastal elite.
To the person who has never heard of any of these cities, you must have missed geography classes! United should not have been awarded these contracts! Boutique Airlines is perfect for small cities, they have like 12 passenger prop planes and I have flown many times with boutique and I know of no other airline that has their quality of service!