Seaport Airlines has abruptly cut service on all routes in California as of Friday January 18, 2016 and has also discontinued service on several routes in Missouri and Kansas the following day sighting a pilot shortage.
The small airline flies regional services with 9 passenger cassena caravan aircrafts and previously served destinations such as San Diego, Burbank, Visalia, Sacramento, and El Centro in California and San Felipe in Baja California, Mexico. The airline offered an interesting no frills business model connecting small cities with larger cities with “right-size” aircraft. No in-flight passenger’s services are provided, such as beverages or bathrooms, but the flight times for most Seaport flights are under an hour, so this was not really necessary. Now, the airline is scaling back and only flying within the Pacific Northwest.
SeaPort Airlines issued a statement on Friday announcing that the Portland, Ore.-based commuter airline would be discontinuing all its scheduled service to destinations in California and Mexico at the end of the day.
The carrier’s service to destinations in Kansas and Missouri ceased the following day, Saturday, Jan. 16.
“The company was forced to take this action because of the impact on SeaPort’s business and operations following the effects of the shortage of airline pilots in the United States,” Seaport said in its statement, noting that flights would be canceled to Sacramento, Visalia, Burbank, San Diego and Imperial, Calif., as well as Salinas and Great Bend in Kansas,Kansas City, Mo., and San Felipe, Baja California, in Mexico.
As of last Saturday, SeaPort had 17 pilots available, but the airline needed 54 to keep up its schedule, the Salina Journal reported….
SeaPort executive vice president Tim Sieber told the Salina Journal the airline had planes sitting on the ground, but an attrition of pilots “attributable to the increase in the required number of hours that pilots have to have in order to fly large jets.”
SeaPort’s pilots are “getting lured out the door by $10,000 and $15,000 signing bonuses by the major airlines,” Sieber said.
SeaPort isn’t the only small airline having a tough time keeping pilots.
“When times are tougher for pilots, many of them have no choice but to work for the wages that these airlines offer,” explained Seth Kaplan, of Airline Weekly. “But right now, with many Vietnam-era pilots having recently retired after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65, and a limited number of new pilots replacing them, many pilots have their pick of good jobs. When the music stops, it’s the small-plane operators who don’t have enough pilots willing to work for what those airlines are willing to offer.”
For now, SeaPort says it plans to continue its Pacific Northwest flights, which serve Moses Lake, Port Angeles and Seattle in Washington, North Bend/Coos Bay, Pendleton and Portland in Oregon, Harrison and Hot Springs in Arkansas, Memphis and Houston.
The airline is offering to issue refunds to customers with unused tickets on the routes canceled.
It’s truly sad to see small airlines like Seaport have to scale back operation after a mass expansion over the last two years which brought new routes to airports such as San Diego and Sacramento. I often times found the flights departing San Diego to be full, but a full flight doesn’t means it’s profitable and doesn’t make the pilots happy.
Joshua Balmer, a private pilot with a commercial airline license, response to this scale back due to the pilot shortage is most likely linked to pay in his opinion, “This is not surprising as this is what happens when regional airlines only want to pay pilots $15 an hour after they spent $100,000 or more on education and training.” Pilots can make more money as a waiter in Seattle then they can flying!