Mike Sharkey, the North Platte Regional Airport Manager, said PenAir’s problem can be summed up in two words -- pilot shortage -- the same problem that made North Platte former airline -- Great Lakes – unreliable.“Our ‘good friends’ in Congress passed a law that created a hell of a pilot shortage that is hurting a lot of small airlines,” Sharkey said.
Great Lakes Airlines became less-than-reliable in 2013-14, confounded by a Congressional requirement that hiked the amount of flight time and ground training that is required to become certified pilots.
Nearly four years later, the same underlying situation has taken away another airline from Nebraska.
“The shortages will always be here unless our friends in Congress do something about it,” Sharkey said. “And it doesn’t appear like they have any ability to do that.”
The federal law basically says a copilot has to have the same amount of flight hours, qualifications and certifications as the Captain (pilot).
“The law basically dried up the hiring pool, because those guys aren’t available,” Sharkey said. “As pilots retire, there are not enough people coming in filling gaps.”
“That is absolutely right,” said PenAir vice president Melissa Anderson. “The problem needs to be addressed.”
Sen. Deb Fischer and Rep. Adrian Smith try to help, Sharkey said.
“But there are a lot of powerful people, including Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who has taken it upon himself to protect the world from what he believes are the dangers of flying on small airlines,” he said.
It is an example of government fighting with itself. The DOT contracts with airlines to provide service to small communities, sets rules and pays subsidies, but the legislative branch passes regulations that make it impossible for small airlines to fulfill their obligations.
“That is exactly what is going on,” Sharkey said.
He said the size of the pilot shortage increases every day.
Small airlines generally have enough airplanes, but the pilot shortage forces them to cancel flights.
Sharkey said PenAir was building up customers – “not anywhere where they should have been at this time -- but the pilot shortage, causing cancellations, hurt them,” he said.