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RAA 2014: Republic continues growth despite pilot issues

Republic Airways Holdings (RAH) is seeing accelerated growth now it has returned to focus purely on the fixed-fee flying business following the divestment of Frontier Airlines, according to its president, chairman and CEO Bryan Bedford.

“We are deep into the 47 firm Embraer 175 deliveries which we are flying for American Airlines,” Bedford reported, though he admitted that like many other operators, the company is “struggling on pilot resources”.

While the growth is coming in larger regional aircraft, Bedford and his team still see a healthy market for 50 seat regional jets (RJ50s). “There will be a fewer, but there is definitely a business for them. However, it is with the smaller aircraft that we are experiencing the recruiting challenges,” he admitted. The company grounded more than 20 RJ50s in February, citing a pilot shortage as a major factor.

In another area of pilot relations, Bedford was asked about the recent pilot vote which rejected a negotiated collective bargaining agreement. “Our offer included an increase in First Officer (FO) salary of 30% at the entry level to around a 50% increase for experienced FOs. It seems the economics get reallocated to the left seat pilot, with a ‘Got to pay your dues’ feeling. I don’t think that’s appropriate and someone has to come up with a way through,” Bedford remarked. “We even tried outside the CBA to offer FOs an extra wage increment, while continuing to negotiate the full agreement – and it was declined.”

Bridge programmes for training, such as the Cape Air’s Gateway are “creative attempts” in the battle to overcome the pilot shortage, Bedford said, “but we need more of them, because there is no magic bullet solution”.

Bedford maintained the RAA position that the recent 1,500 hour requirement for FOs is no guarantee of quality and ability. “We don’t want an unsafe pilot – however many hours they have,” he declared.

Returning to other areas of the business, Bedford reported that the new E175s currently entering service are based at Chicago O’Hare but their deployment may expand to other hubs. The aircraft, with ‘enhanced’ performance from elements such as new wingtips which effectively make the wingspan 8 ft wider, are meeting the specifications that Embraer gave, according to RAH chief financial officer, Wayne Heller.

On RAH’s order for Bombardier’s CSeries aircraft, Bedford said the plan is for it to be part of the core flying business. “The deliveries are not due to begin until late 2016, so we have time to think about how we will deploy the aircraft,” he explained.

“We were recently up in Montreal and saw the CS100 fly. We saw it, but didn’t hear it,” he commented. “It’s an incredibly quiet aircraft. We are impressed with the product, and it seems that it will meet what Bombardier specified.”

Finally Bedford was asked what he had learned from Frontier experience. “It’s better to get labour on board at the front end [of the deal] rather than after the fact and I think that’s where we failed. But without engaging [and buying the airline], more than 5,000 people would have lost their jobs,” he emphasised.

Photo courtesy of RAA.

Bernie Baldwin, editor, Low-Fare & Regional Airlines/LARAnews.net
St Louis, Missouri, USA

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