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RAA 2015: Great Lakes heads back to full Part 121 ops

Great Lakes Airlines is rebuilding its pilot pool and slowly moving towards returning its Beech 1900Ds to full 19-seat operations.

Chuck Howell, president of Great Lakes Airlines, recalled how between August 2013 and March 2014 the carrier dropped having just 78 pilots, with the effect of the 1,500 hour pilot employment rule coming into force. “We took 10 seats out of the Beech 1900s which allowed us to hire more pilots who did not have the 1,500 hours required for Part 121 operations. The 9-seat aircraft qualified for operations under Part 135 regulations. We now have just over 100 pilots,” Howell explained. “We went to do Part 135 specifications and added them to our Part 121 certificate.”

“With the pilot group hired in February 2014 under the old hiring standards, it has taken a year to grow the crop to 1,500 hours,” he continued. “We have a fairly unlimited supply of junior first officers. Now, however, it’s getting tricky to keep our captains. Many are moving to bigger aircraft. Also, the 1900Ds give the pilots good flying skills which the bigger carriers like. Candidly, we’ve always been a good graduate school for pilots as many of them develop ‘fuselage envy’.”

Although the Beech aircraft now fly under Part 135, Howells emphasised that they are still operated to Part 121 standards. “The local FAA office recognises that we didn’t go backwards,” he reported.

Great Lakes is still operating in 18 Essential Air Service cities, though it had to drop 18 cities last year. “Since January, we’ve also dropped four EAS routes and now have 26 airports in the system,” Howell remarked. “Our fleet is currently 28 Beech 1900s and six Embraer 120s, leaving us as the only carrier flying 19- and 30-seat regional aircraft. We’d like to get some more EMB 120s to enable two EAS services a day, which could be done with fewer pilots. We have no specific timeline for them, but we’d like an extra 10-12 of the aircraft.”

On Congress and its approach to the EAS, Howell believes the feeling is generally positive. “EAS has always been bipartisan,” he noted. “The preliminary budget – funded from the overfly fees of international carriers – has an increase in it. I think [to meet requirement] it will probably have to go to $250-260 million from around $200 million.”

Howell closed by noting that, although the airline appreciates the programme, he does think that the EAS needs an overhaul.

Bernie Baldwin, editor, Low-Fare & Regional Airlines/LARAnews.net
Cleveland, Ohio

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