SeaPort Airlines of Portland, Oregon notified Port of Port Angeles staff late Tuesday that it is postponing scheduled air service from Port Angeles to SeaTac indefinitely due to a pilot shortage. Regularly scheduled air service from William R. Fairchild Airport to SeaTac International Airport was set to begin on March 1, 2016.
SeaPort Airlines is also postponing their planned service from Moses Lake to Seattle and Portland. The airline announced late last week that it cancelled service in several states including California, Kansas and Missouri.
The shortage of qualified airline pilots has been cited as a significant problem for SeaPort. As of last Saturday, SeaPort had 17 pilots available, but the airline needed 54 to keep up its schedule, according to the Salina Journal.
There are multiple reasons for the shortage, but regional airlines such as SeaPort often raise the new Congressional rule that took effect in 2013 after the Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash in 2010 as a factor. It requires commercial pilots and co-pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of flight time, up from 250 hours.
In addition to the 1,500 hour rule, many Vietnam-era pilots are retiring at the mandatory retirement age of 65, with too few students enrolling in the expensive training needed to fill those vacancies. These factors decrease the supply of qualified pilots. Qualified pilots currently have their pick of available jobs and smaller airlines cannot compete with the compensation packages and signing bonuses offered by larger airlines.
Regularly scheduled air service at William R. Fairchild International Airport is one of the Port’s key targets in their current strategic plan. The Port of Port Angeles will continue to strive to restore air service to Port Angeles. The pilot shortage is a national problem that will require a national solution. The Port will be working with Representative Kilmer’s office to determine if and how they can help address the pilot shortage in order to re-establish commercial air service to Port Angeles.