Tur­bu­lence at small air­lines

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - BUSINESS -

Nearly half of all air­line flights in the U.S. are flown by so-called re­gional car­ri­ers us­ing planes that typ­i­cally seat 50 to 100 pas­sen­gers. Your ticket and the logo on the plane might say American, Delta or United, but there’s a good chance the pi­lots and flight at­ten­dants work for a re­gional air­line like SkyWest or Mesa.

Re­gional air­lines are now shrink­ing as a share of the in­dus­try’s pas­sen­ger-car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity. Fig­ures from their trade group, the Re­gional Air­line Association, show that traf­fic on the big air­lines is ris­ing but travel on re­gional car­ri­ers is flat to down slightly.

The re­gion­als face tough cost pres­sures, a pi­lot short­age, and the de­sire by pi­lots at big air­lines to do more of the fly­ing. Daily depar­tures by re­gional air­lines have shrunk 24 per­cent in the past decade.

The ef­fect has been felt most in smaller ci­ties, which have been los­ing air ser­vice. Avi­a­tion con­sul­tant Mike Boyd says many trav­el­ers in places like Topeka, Kansas, pre­fer to drive far­ther to big­ger air­ports with more fights. So Topeka, which of­fered two daily United flights in 2014, “sim­ply could not com­pete.”

With fewer flights, fares to smaller ci­ties are now rel­a­tively high. That has United ex­ec­u­tives think­ing about re­vers­ing course and ex­pand­ing ser­vice to smaller air­ports.

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