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America dreams

There were some positive trends in America’s airline industry last year, and projections for this year are relatively upbeat. However, there is a cautious tone about the operating environment ahead, as Keith Mwanalushi finds

Following the presidential elections in the US last year, aviation has never been so politically charged. Aviation policy typically does not feature high in the priorities of prospective presidential candidates, but in this case, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was marked by a combination of nationalism and protectionism that will no doubt make a mark in US aviation policy. In January, Trump kicked off his sweeping reforms by confirming Elaine Chao as the Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT).


Regional priorities 


The Regional Airline Association’s (RAA) President Faye Malarkey Black accepts that the current political landscape will have some impact on the aviation industry. "Certainly, these are tumultuous times for the United States," Black tells Low Cost & Regional Airline Business. "Our country seems to be divided in many ways on key issues related to our values and identity."


Black says the RAA is navigating these waters by focusing on core values – "advancing and upholding the highest level of aviation safety, remaining committed to a vibrant, diverse, and ample future and current workforce, providing the highest level of service to our passengers, and offering safe and reliable air service to every corner of the country."


Black was among the first to acknowledge the appointment of Chao in January. "During her confirmation hearing, Elaine Chao emphasised the importance of equalising transportation options at urban and rural communities." 


Regional airlines operate 44% of the nation’s departures and serve population centres of all sizes – many of these airports are located in small and rural communities – "we can be a key and committed resource when it comes to protecting and strengthening air transportation in the cities and the countryside," Black says. 


"There is an excellent safety culture that exists today within the regional airline industry," she adds, stressing that the RAA is committed to discussing ways in which they can continue to innovate and advance safety as an industry. "This is also reflected in our airlines’ participation in the voluntary safety management programmes that have played a key role in elevating and advancing aviation safety nationwide."


A severe and worsening pilot shortage continues to unfold in the US and is of serious concern to Black. "This problem persists despite dramatic pilot compensation increases at both regional and major airlines." 


RAA figures show that approximately 30,000 pilots will reach mandatory retirement age of 65 by 2026. "At the same time, fewer and insufficient numbers of new pilots are entering the pipeline to replace them," Black continues. The University of North Dakota predicts a cumulative shortfall of pilots nearing 15,000 by 2026.


According to Boeing’s 2016 pilot outlook, North America will require 112,000 new pilots over the next 20 years, it is apparent that meeting this demand will require innovative solutions. 


Regional airlines and the populations they serve have been among the first and most heavily impacted by the pilot dilemma. "Hundreds of communities across the country have lost significant air service, and dozens have lost all their air service, as fewer pilots are available than are needed to fly all of today’s routes," notes Black. >>

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