US regional airlines that faced serious pilot shortages a year ago have gotten a reprieve both through their own aggressive recruiting tactics and the slowing economy in the country.

The largest diversified regional operator, Republic Airways Holdings whose subsidiaries fly for six US carriers, was forced to slow its growth last year after pilot attrition levels reached 20%.

Pinnacle Airlines Corp posted an extra $1.5 million in pilot training costs during the first three months of 2007, and the carrier had to make a $1.1 million payment to partner Northwest Airlines for falling short of committed flying levels established in their air services agreement.

A year later current economic conditions in the US have mitigated that problem “naturally,” says Regional Airline Association (RAA) President Roger Cohen.

Regional carrier efforts to strengthen recruitment and legislation passed by the US Congress in late 2007 extending the pilot retirement age to 65 have also contributed to an easing of shortages, Cohen explains.

But the head of RAA also cautions that the macro factors that served as triggers for the pilot shortage – fewer individuals interested in becoming pilots and growth in operators overseas and in the corporate and fractional business – remain intact.

While Cohen characterizes the current relief as a “twenty second timeout,” those issues will again become relevant within the next five years.

RAA is in the midst of trying convince the US DOT its proposed pricing scheme allowing airports to alter landing fees charged to carriers based on both aircraft weight and level of operations would disconnect as many as 70% of the nation’s airports served by regional jets from the national air transportation system.

“My fear”, says Cohen, is “this [the proposal] is going to be pushed by ideologues in the administration as they walk out the door leaving someone else to clean up the mess, and they will not have to live with that mess.” 

Source:'s sister premium news site Air Transport Intelligence news