Pilot shortage puts Scottsbluff airport in a jam

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Posted: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 12:00 am

SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. — Great Lakes Airlines has canceled two dozen flights out of Scottsbluff over the past few months, and Western Nebraska Regional Airport officials are looking for a solution.

On Aug. 1, airlines across the country had to comply with the new Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act, which lengthened the time for pilots and co-pilots to earn their airline transport pilot certification.

The law raised the minimum required flight hours for pilots from 250 to 1,500 before being hired by an airline.

That has caused a pilot shortage.

Airport director Darwin Skelton said the cancellations could prevent the airport from reaching the 10,000 annual boardings it needs to receive federal funding. Failure to reach the threshold could cost the airport $850,000 in federal funds.

Total boardings this year through the end of October are 8,035 on Great Lakes plus 176 on charter flights.

In October there were 22 canceled flights. The airport operated 120 flights with 796 passengers. There have been nine canceled flights in November as of Saturday.

Airport Chairman Don Overman said Great Lakes works hard to rebook passengers on other airlines and flights.

Overman said he is concerned about the Great Lakes cancellations, but the shortage of pilots stems from pilots choosing to take jobs with larger airlines. Overman added that even the military is having a hard time keeping pilots, who can make more money as captains at major airlines. In October, Great Lakes lost about 12 pilots.

“We have been in contact with the top executives of Great Lakes, and they well know our concern,” Overman said. “I think they’re are as frustrated or moreso maybe than we are because they can’t do anything about it when a pilot quits.”

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