SkyWest Airlines CEO Chip Childs said US regional carriers will likely continue to be forced to exit or reduce service to smaller markets for the next five years, citing a growing pilot shortage.
“For us to not exit any more small communities—that might take around five years,” Childs, the head of the largest regional airline in the US, told the 2022 Regional Airline Association (RAA) Leaders Conference in Washington.
“The regional industry will be smaller in the future than it is today, because as we raise prices to our consumer–which is the mainline carriers—they’ll want less of what we do,” Republic Airways CEO Bryan Bedford explained. “Ultimately, it will mean less service to some places, less choice of service, less convenience of service and, of course, higher fares.”
With US regionals challenged to fill cockpits, their major carrier partners have decided to end routes or reduce frequencies to/from many smaller markets. Consequences of the reduction in flying include higher fares, higher unit costs for regional carriers and less connecting options for passengers.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a wholesale dislocation,” Bedford said of the service cuts. “We’re seeing communities that used to enjoy 30 flights a day to six different hubs—now they have 15 flights a day to three hubs. Ultimately, it’s going to end with three daily flights to one hub. That’s the gradual decline that many of these communities are experiencing.”
The regional service cuts are almost completely being driven by pilot supply constraints, Childs said, adding that small community demand is as great, or stronger, than it was in 2019. “Even as we’re pulling out of cities, my phone is ringing off the hook all the time with more cities wanting air service,” he said.