14 News Special Report: Airline experts, leaders weigh in on pilot shortage impacting Evansville region

14 News Special Report: Airline experts, leaders weigh in on pilot shortage impacting Evansville region
Published: Nov. 17, 2022 at 7:45 PM CST
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - In the last year, several routes have been pulled from the Evansville Regional Airport.

Routes on American Airlines and United Airlines to Chicago were cut earlier this year. Delta Airline’s EVV to Detroit route was cut soon after.

Four routes still depart regularly from EVV. Five if you count Allegiant’s seasonal route to the Destin/Fort Walton Beach area.

Faye Malarkey Black, CEO of the Regional Airline Association, says the main issue is a pilot shortage, heavily impacting regional airlines.

“And what that’s meant is that communities across the board are losing air service and lots of it,” Black said.

And the Evansville market is no exception.

[14 News Special Report: Recent airline cuts at EVV impact regional economy, passengers]

The issues equate to fewer options for travelers and at a higher cost, Black said.

As previously reported, some of our locally based corporations are feeling the rough air. The Indiana Economic Development Corporation told 14 News companies like Berry Global and Toyota Indiana have brought up issues with air service out of Evansville.

Jack Griffin, CEO of Atlas Van Lines, told 14 News his company is no exception, either.

Griffin said he and the local business community are working to help figure out how to get those flights back.

“We’re working with the business community, with city hall, with Indianapolis and obviously direct with the carriers with EVV,” said Griffin.

The state is funneling money to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, too. Mark Wasky, Senior Vice President for Community Affairs at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, said that funding is to help bring, maintain and even restore service to regional airports.

“We’ve been coordinating closely with community and business leaders to try and identify opportunities for the state to come in and make thoughtful investments alongside the airlines,” said Wasky. “...to make sure they can dedicate assets to the Evansville Regional Airport to provide additional non-stop connectivity to places like Detroit and Chicago.”

Black with the Regional Airline Association is convinced we need to get pilots in the door, and fast.

“The career is so great once you get it, but it’s so hard to access,” said Black.

The training is expensive and in some cases geographically hard to access, Black said. She also said even once trainees are in, it’s still years before training is complete.

Black thinks one part of the solution might be within current pilots. Right now, pilots are forced to retire at the age of 65.

“They don’t become unsafe the day after a birthday!” explained Black, who said allowing pilots to fly for two or more years might help the issues in the short term.

Pilot age is one thing Senator Todd Young is looking into.

Earlier this year, Senator Young, as well as Senator Mike Braun and Congressman Larry Bucshon wrote a letter to the CEOs of Delta and American. The letter urged the company leaders to return the Chicago and Detroit routes.

[READ MORE: Ind. lawmakers send letter to restore flights from Evansville to Chicago & Detroit]

An American Airlines spokesperson told 14 News they did receive the letter. The spokesperson said they issued a letter back to the politicians, explaining their struggles with the pilot shortage, and that they retained service to their two largest hubs: Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

As for the issue of training costs that Black brings up? Young told 14 News he’s working on a solution for that too. According to Young, he’s working on new models to help curb the cost.

“...So we can make sure that no one has to say they’re not undergoing pilot training because of the cost of that training,” said Senator Young.

As for their Chicago route, American Airlines issued this statement to 14 News:

“We are constantly evaluating our schedule based on supply and demand but do not have any additional updates to share at this time. Evansville (EVV) remains an important market in American’s global network, and we currently offer service between EVV and our two largest hubs in Charlotte (CLT) and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW).”

United Airlines also provided a statement to 14 News:

“United regularly adjusts its schedule for a variety of reasons including demand, the broader needs of our network and more. We evaluate each route closely and will keep you posted if a decision is made to bring back this service.”

Delta Airlines provided a statement, too:

“While Delta continually monitors demand in markets across the U.S., regional operators’ pilot rosters have been challenged due to many factors. To address those challenges, Delta actively works with our regional partners so that, as conditions improve, service can be restored where feasible.”

Part three of Grounded: Few Flights, Fewer Choices airs Friday on 14 News at 6 p.m.