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RAA 2014: Great Lakes cuts flights and seats to deal with dearth of pilots

Great Lakes Airlines came up with a creative solution to meet the pilot shortage that forced the Midwest regional to park aircraft earlier this year: it reduced the number of seats in its Beech 1900s, allowing the carrier to operate with pilots who have fewer than 1,500 minimum hours of flight.

The carrier has a fleet of 28 Beech 1900s and six Brasilias, with just two of the latter currently flying. To date, half of the seats in the 1900s have been removed and the remaining aircraft will be complete by July, said CEO Chuck Howell. He admits the economics of reducing capacity isn’t working well, but hopes to “re-grow” the pilot base after hiring its first new training class in February.

In years past, Great Lakes had up to 308 pilots on staff but that number is down to 98, said Howell. “We saw major attrition that started last summer.”

Like other regional carriers, Great Lakes was a “breeding ground” for training, noted Howell. Pilots gained the experience and the hours needed with an eye to moving up to the mainline carriers.

The carrier operates flights to 14 states and 30 communities, 20 of which are subsidised under Essential Air Services. Since January 2014 though, Great Lakes has had to shut down 17 cities, in 15 which it provided the only air service.

Sandra Arnoult, US correspondent, Low-Fare & Regional Airlines/LARAnews.net
St Louis, Missouri, USA

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