Lack of pilots: A hurdle in bringing commercial service back to airport | News
Montoursville, Pa. — The major hurdle in bringing commercial service back to the Williamsport Regional Airport is the lack of pilots getting into the aviation industry, according to the airport’s Executive Director Richard Howell.
Howell, in statements made during and after a discussion hosted Monday for a study on behalf of the Pennsylvania Transportation Advisory Committee, said that the airport has put together a $1.7 million package for airlines to get services off the ground.
All five of the major airlines have seen the proposal but none are picking up on the opportunity. Howell thinks this is due to the limited ability to recruit pilots and the cost of jet fuel, he said.
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“The crux of the problem right now is the availability of pilots to operate aircraft,” Howell said. “The price of fuel is also an issue for the smaller, 50-seat-type aircraft that we look for in this market.”
Howell said the airlines are currently “parking” the airplanes “because they don’t have anybody to fly them.”
Part of the problem is the cost associated to enter the field, which is “prohibitively expensive,” he added.
However, representatives from the Penn College aviation program said, during the TAC discussion, that they have been seeing consistent enrollment.
The airlines have shown interest in returning service to the area, Howell said, but “they’ve been forthcoming in saying, ‘We don’t know when we’d be able to do that.'”
These comments came after American Airlines terminated service to three cities—Ithaca and Islip, New York and Toledo, Ohio—due to the pilot shortage.
Lycoming County Commissioner Richard Mirabito said during the discussion that it was time to see more engagement from the state to get service to regional airports.
“We’re the entrance to the PA Wilds yet we cannot get people here by plane,” Mirabito said. “How do we get these airlines — and what pressure do we use as a state — to service these small, rural airports?”
Frank Pellegrino, chairman of the Williamsport Municipal Airport Authority, said that the airport could fill planes.
“We can fill it,” Pellegrino said. “All we need is a chance.”
TAC is currently in the middle of a series of listening sessions around the state to gauge ideas from aviation professionals on the study they are conducting. The study is expected to be published sometime early next year.