For the regional airlines, real world airline service reductions may serve to get the issue of pilot scope clauses and its restriction on carriers on to the public agenda.

Changes such as the cutbacks by American Eagle to comply with its scope clause limits or the suspension by US Airways of regional jet routes such as between Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Pittsburgh, represent a major event, says Doug Abbey, executive director of the Regional Air Service Initiative. He calls the cuts "the first concrete proof that service is imperilled by scope".

American has taken turboprop aircraft out of its Eagle fleet and removed a row of seats from most of its Saab and ATR turboprops to comply with its scope clause. At the group's annual meeting in Nashville, Regional Airline Association (RAA) president Deborah McElroy adds: "This is not theoretical any more."

RAA chairman Tom Moore, the chief operating officer of Atlantic Coast Airlines, says RAA wants to gain congressional attention for the issue because "until now only ALPA (Air Line Pilots Association) has framed the argument". But RAA legislative affairs director Faye Malarkey has acknowledged that direct congressional intervention is unlikely, especially in an election year.

RAA sees its best chance for change in increasing public awareness of the issue through education. Abbey says a planned major study showing how many 70-seat regional jets could offer service without the constraints of scope clause should gain further public attention. The Regional Air Service Initiative, launched in conjunction with RAA last year, will use its public-education web site to detail service changes. Abbey hopes that the American Association of Airport Executives will co-operate with the service initiative later this year.

Moore says he hopes that the pilot groups will resolve the scope issue because of the limits on career growth that scope clause can impose. "Our pilots themselves have a greater ability to decide their fate than management." But that would involve a potentially bitter internecine dispute within the national pilot union, which all acknowledge is not likely, especially given the protracted and often contentious status of pilot contract negotiations at some regionals.

Source: Airline Business