A dire shortage of pilots has forced smaller airlines to cancel flights and ground jets, a side effect of federal regulations that dramatically increased the minimum number of flight hours for new pilots.
The labor shortages and service cuts have hit first and most sharply at the regional airlines that carry passengers from small markets on behalf of larger carriers. One of the largest regionals, Republic Airways Holdings , plans to stop flying 27 of its 41 Embraer 50-seat jets in response to the pilot shortage.
Flight cuts caused by the pilot shortage have rippled from the tiniest of airlines to major hubs. Wyoming-based Great Lakes Airlines to a half dozen small towns on Feb. 1 after seeing its pilot ranks slashed from more than 300 to under 100. United Airlines, meanwhile, explained the recent plan to dismantle its Cleveland hub in part by pointing to the inability of regional carriers to staff all its flights there.
In some cases the bigger airlines are cannibalizing the lower-paid workforce of their regional partners. “Many of the mainline carriers will hire away pilots to meet their capacity needs coming at a time where the pilot pool continues to shrink,” Cowen & Co. analyst Helane Becker wrote today in a client note. “As a result of the limited pilot availability we expect to see reduced flying by the regional carriers and pilot wages increase.”
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