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Great Lakes lays off staff and puts aircraft up for sale

Great Lakes Airlines has started laying off staff and is seeking to sell assets including Beechcraft and Embraer turboprops, moves that follow the company’s decision to halt operations several days ago.

The US regional carrier, based in Cheyenne, Wyoming, stopped flight operations abruptly and with no explanation following an evening flight on 26 March.

The company says it has halted operations “indefinitely”, and now attributes its struggles largely to a controversial 2013 pilot qualification rule.

“After 40 years of servicing regional airports in the Midwestern and Western regions of the United States, Great Lakes Airlines has begun implementing employee layoffs,” says Great Lakes in a 28 March media release. “The airline, which owns a fleet of aircraft comprised of 28 Beechcraft 1900Ds and six Embraer 120 Brasilia, hopes to sell its remaining assets to interested parties.”

“Critical staff members needed to support the scheduled airline certificate, repair station certificate, reservation platform and maintain the fleet will be kept onboard until the airline's assets can be sold,” Great Lakes adds.

Other airlines have already extended employment offers to Great Lakes’ pilots.

”We would like to offer any current Great Lakes pilot the opportunity to bypass the interview [and] reserve an expedited class date,” regional airline Air Wisconsin tweeted on 28 March.

Though Great Lakes’ release does not specifically blame the carrier’s shutdown on the pilot qualification rule, it says the rule forced Great Lakes to cut flying in recent years.

The rule "significantly reduced the amount of qualified pilots available for smaller airlines", says Great Lakes’ release. "This change caused Great Lakes Airlines, for the past five years, to suspend flights to small cities in the upper Midwest and Western regions of the US as a result of its inability to employ pilots."

A regulatory response to the 2009 crash of Colgan Air flight 3407, the rule requires new-hire pilots to have 1,500h of flight time, up from 250h.

Many regional airlines have said the rule has increased the financial burden of becoming an airline pilot, leading many prospective pilots to choose other careers, which has contributed to a pilot shortage.

They also argue that many of today’s new pilots, having accumulated hours in non-airline environments, are less prepared than in the past for the rigours of an airline job.

Other groups, however, including pilot unions, have credited the rule with increasing safety by ensuring airline pilots have more flying experience.

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