• City Tells Great Lakes Airlines To Take A Hike

    Great lakes AviationIn a bold move last night the Watertown City Council unanimously voted to give Great Lakes Airlines the boot.  The action was taken at a special city council meeting and comes following a dramatic drop in passenger boardings at the Watertown airport and at a time when the Federal Government is getting more stringent with airline passenger subsidy caps.   Mayor Steve Thorson addressed Great Lakes Airlines CEO Chuck Howell saying that poor and inconsistent flight service has resulted in a dramatic drop in passenger numbers at Watertown.

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    Great Lakes Airlines CEO Chuck Howell says the low numbers are directly the result of a pilot shortage that all airlines, big and small, are facing.  He says the problem worsened in August of 2013 when the Federal Government began requiring pilots with first officer qualifications to have 1,500 hours flying time.

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    Alderman Bruce Buhler says the city may be beating a dead horse here.

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    Howell says his airline, and others, are faced with a mounting problem of finding pilots.   Howell talked of another carriker Skywest that flies some for Delta, United and American Airlines.  He says that airline has grounded numerous planes because of the pilot shortage.

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    Howell says there’s no simple fix because most experienced pilots keep moving along to the major airlines as they achieve their required number of flying hours. Watertown’s air service consultant Mead and Hunt also attended the meeting.  Senior Consultant Jeffrey Hartz says the hit and miss flights at Watertown are a major reason why airline boarding are dropping dramatically.  He says low pilot pay is another reason for the pilot shortage.

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    Great Lakes Airlines passenger boardings have dropped by half  each year since the airline began serving the city with only two passenger enplanements being reported daily today. The Federal Government announced recently it would be continuing the funding for the Essential Air Service program to the tune of 230 to 260 million dollars.  However, Howell says, that still won’t address the pilot shortage.  The action taken by the Watertown City Council last night will force the community to look for a new airline.  There’s two possibilities but that getting one with good connectivity to a major hub is doubtful.  It’s unknown how long Great Lakes Airlines will continue serving the community in the interim.