TELLURIDE – With Great Lakes Airlines suspending its service, the Telluride Regional Airport will no longer have commercial air service flying into the airport, beginning next month.
Great Lakes Airlines, TEX’s only commercial airline provider, announced last week it will suspend service effective Sept. 16, citing pilot and crew availability challenges in the aftermath of new Federal Aviation Administration regulations that took effect in 2013. Great Lakes currently flies a 19-seat Beechcraft 1900 from Telluride to Denver once daily on weekdays and twice daily on weekends. Summer 2014 service will continue as scheduled until service is suspended in September.
“It’s unfortunate and disappointing,” Colorado Flights Alliance CEO Matt Skinner said Tuesday (Colorado Flights Alliance works to attract and retain air service to Western Colorado). “They let us know about the challenges they are facing, and we have been working with them ever since in trying to find a solution to maintain service here.”
Regional carriers across the country are struggling to cope with the FAA rule enacted last year that requires first officers – also known as co-pilots – who fly U.S. passenger and cargo airlines to hold an Airline Transport Pilot certificate that them to log requires 1,500 hours of flight time, as a pilot. Previously, first officers were required to have only a commercial pilot certificate, requiring 250 hours of flight time.
“At the end of the day, it got too constrictive for them,” Skinner said of Great Lakes. “They were great partners, and we worked hand in hand with them on every possible alternative we could find. In the end, they had to step away from what was their only remaining non-government subsidized market.”
“This is an unfortunate, but not unexpected development with Great Lakes service to Telluride,” said Telluride Regional Airport Manager Rich Nuttall. “Since last year’s new pilot regulations came online, we have watched Great Lakes’ national service reduce dramatically, and its business model move further and further from what would be viable for Telluride.”
The new regulations stem in part from the tragic crash of Colgan Air 3407 in February 2009 while in route to Buffalo, N.Y. The crash killed all 49 people aboard the aircraft. A subsequent Congressional mandate in the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 was drafted to ensure that both pilots and co-pilots receive the ATP certification.
While many consequences of the law have been felt already, Nuttall voiced concern about the future. “The long-term effect of this pilot shortage is going to start affecting the larger airlines,” Nuttall said. “No-one [pilots] is coming up in the ranks.”
Nuttall said that while a decreased number of enplanements at TEX may mean fewer FAA grant dollars, the airport will still apply for grants and be eligible for airport improvement dollars.
The Telluride Regional Airport and Colorado Flights Alliance will continue to work diligently on options for scheduled air service to and from Telluride, exploring commercial, charter and private venture alternatives. The two organizations will also work with other communities in the effort to lobby the FAA for a modification to the new regulations.
“We are continually working on new service. That is our goal,” Skinner said.