Regional Airline Association chairman Dan Garton today expressed relief that a bipartisan effort in the U.S. Congress was able to reverse the furloughs of air traffic controllers triggered by federal budget cuts. But he complained that America’s regional carriers had faced a disproportionate burden from the effects of sequestration on the country’s air traffic management system. He told the general session at the annual RAA Convention in Montreal that at many airports served by member carriers, around half of daily flights had been affected by the controller shortages, and that major airlines had felt compelled to cut regional services first, perhaps because larger airliners seemed to be given priority during the delays. “If we ever experience another extended ATC disruption, we will certainly see [regional] service shrink,” warned Garton, who is also CEO of American Eagle.
RAA believes the case for pushing ahead with the U.S. NextGen air traffic management modernization is compelling, even at a time of government budget constraint. “If NextGen is implemented [flight] delays could be reduced by 38 percent by 2020, saving 1.4 billion gallons of fuel,” said Garton. He cautioned that regional airline service to some smaller cities could become unaffordable in the absence of NextGen.
Garton also addressed the issue of pilot recruitment in the general session. He confirmed that new requirements for first officers to have a minimum of 1,500 flight hours before working in a Part 121 cockpit limited the pool of qualified candidates for regional airlines. At the same time, carriers are having to recruit more pilots, with flight duty time rules alone prompting an increased need for 5 to 8 percent more flight crew. He warned that pilot shortages could further constrain airline service to smaller communities.