Memo to Working Group on Improving Air Service to Small Communities: TRY Airlines/Community College Incubators, helps safety, too

working group memo
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Working Group on Improving Air Service to Small Communities

How to Improve Service to Small Communities, Add Pilots & Mechanics to the Work Force, & Create Aviation Entrepreneurs

working group memoU.S. Department of Transportation Acting Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs Jenny T. Rosenberg today announced the members of the new Working Group on Improving Air Service to Small Communities (Working Group). The Working Group will consist of 25 stakeholders involved in air transportation to small communities.  The group will advise Congress on current and emerging priorities, issues, and funding needs related to providing air service to small communities.

  • Joshua Abramson, Airport Director, Easterwood Airport, College Station, Texas
  • Andrew Bonney, Senior Vice President of Planning, Cape Air
  • Timothy Bradshaw, Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport, Roanoke, Virginia
  • Rob Burke, Manager, Air Carrier Training Systems & Voluntary Safety Programs Branch, Federal Aviation Administration
  • Bryan Dietz, Vice President, Air Service Development, Allegheny County Airport Authority
  • Jack Dokken, Program Manager, South Dakota Department of Transportation, Office of Aeronautics
  • Toby Fauver, Deputy Secretary for Multimodal Transportation, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
  • Barry Griffith, Manager/Airport Director, Northwest Alabama Regional Airport, Muscle Shoals, Alabama
  • Laurie Gill, Mayor of Pierre, South Dakota
  • Doug Kimmel, Airport Director, Veterans Airport of Southern Illinois, Marion, Illinois
  • Brian Kinsey, Assistant Director, Marketing and Business Development, St. Louis-Lambert International Airport, St. Louis, Missouri
  • Paul Lindseth, Dean of John D. Odegard School of Aerospace SciencesUniversity of North Dakota
  • Stan Little, Chairman and CEO, Southern Airways Express
  • Faye Malarkey Black, President, Regional Airline Association (RAA)
  • Richard B. McQueen, President & CEO, Akron/Canton Regional Airport, Ohio
  • Russell W. Mills, Research Fellow, Center for Regional Development, Associate Professor Political Science, Bowling Green State University
  • Mike Mooney, Air Service Consultant, Sixel Consulting
  • Stephen Morrissey, Vice President. Regulatory and Policy Affairs, United Airlines
  • Patrick Murphy, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Aviation and International Affairs, United States Department of Transportation
  • Brian Sowa, Executive Director, Rural Air Service Alliance, Inc.
  • Brian Sprenger, Airport Director, Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, Montana
  • Sheri Taylor, Air Service Development Program Manager at Wyoming Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division
  • Mike Thompson, COO, SkyWest Airlines
  • Michael Tooley, Director, Montana Department of Transportation


To Secretary Rosenberg and the Working Group

Here are some thoughts on how you might improve service to Small Communities, add pilots and mechanics to the work force, and perhaps create a new generation of aviation entrepreneurs-

To stimulate some more creative thinking, let’s throw out some random observations to see if service to small communities can be saved:

  • The first wave of smaller regional jets sales was initially overpriced because the major hub carriers desired them as vehicles which could overfly the competitors’ major cities
    • those airplanes have outlived their economic lives and are listed one some lessor’s books at virtually zero value
    • the lessors/banks who own these airplanes might be willing to put them into service in small, natural monopoly markets
    • small regional jets are more attractive than the turboprops to these communities’ passengers

working group memo

  • The small cities at issue frequently are sites for community colleges which could become learning institutions for lower cost, high quality academic pilot, mechanic, flight crew and ground personnel training;
    • working group memothere are a lot of students, particularly from low income and minority backgrounds, who might see a long term career in aviation (not just as pilots) attractive
    • these students may qualify for federal education supports and if not the federal elected officials, who represent these small communities, might see such a scholarship program as preferable to the EAS subsidy
    • the training of these student would include more skills; their curriculum could include other academic subjects that would support their growth into management
    • working group memothe students could work during non-school hours in a number of airline related positions (baggage handling, passenger service, station ops, etc.) this could be part of the education/scholarship [thus lower the airlines’ overall costs]
    • the community college could offer training for others interested in airline jobs other than pilot careers; in particular, there is a shortage of mechanics
  • The small cities may have thin demographics for major airline schedules, but
    • many have local businesses which have financial resources
    • many have economic interests in other cities which might support service between the points

working group memo

  • The airline industry has experienced significant contraction and
    • working group memothere is a surplus of able airline executives and management who might be interested in starting up a new airline
    • these alumni might see relocation as an interesting option
  • The greatest genius of Herb Kelleher and Southwest’s founders was the motivating force of employees who own the company; so
    • our small town airlines would offer stock to all of the people who come to work (many of the senior pilots and administrative assistants of WN are comfortably retired)
    • working group memoInvolving local business persons at each of these incubator airline cities creates investors and loyal, large buyers of these flights
  • Each of these cities may have natural market pairs which are too thin for a big airline to make an adequate return
    • but with fully depreciated aircraft and employees with long term perspectives
    • the students working in scholarship positions will lower costs while qualifying for careers
    • the economics may workworking group memo
    • a pattern of 5-10 city pairs may be found
    • in that the schedules will be concentric on the originating city, the flights times may be attractively designed and
    • maximize the capture of existing demand and stimulate new traffic
  • Each of these cities may not be able to support all of the overhead required to run an airline, particularly in the start-up phase
    • virtual operational, flight, maintenance centers can be centrally located for a number of these new start-ups on a cost effective basis until there is enough cash flow to support the individual “franchise”
    • similar virtual marketing, customer service and finance departments can be created
    • the lessors are familiar with a lot of the needed talent
    • the opportunity benefits to move these totally depreciated assets into productive lease will be incentives for the owners of the grounded RJs to support these initial overhead functions
  • working group memoNecessary legislation to support this concept should find ready sponsors who represent the relevant cities

→  This Small Community Service/Community College Incubator could

    • provide immediate good small community service
    • may result in long term flights to/from these communities with a 5-10 year incubation period
    • will bring new candidates to the pilot, flight attendant, mechanic and support work force
    • may create a generation of entrepreneurs who learn from building a new enterprise from the bottom up, rather than as alumni from large, on-going airlines

The Chinese proverb may be good precedent: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

working group memo

This is one example of a broader approach to solving this conundrum. It is probably full of holes and based on unrealistic assumptions, but it is an interesting straw man which should serve to stimulate alternative thoughts.


U.S. Transportation Acting Assistant Secretary Rosenberg Announces Membership of Working Group on Improving Air Service to Small Communities
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1 Comment on "Memo to Working Group on Improving Air Service to Small Communities: TRY Airlines/Community College Incubators, helps safety, too"

  1. Sherman Kensinga | December 22, 2016 at 9:51 am | Reply

    The airline/air cargo/business aviation industry needs tens of thousands of new pilots, now. It takes 6-8 years to create a new pilot, and there are so few in training their numbers will be insignificant to the demand. Historically and currently, only one in ten young people who attempt to become commercial pilots succeed, so we need hundreds of thousands of young people to start training years ago to avoid an industry-crippling shortage of pilots. That didn’t happen, and we don’t have the schools, planes, or instructors to train that many anyway. If we could somehow wait, there still aren’t be that many young people capable of or interested in flying for a living. It is and will be an unattractive career, the airlines won’t ignore cheaper alternatives to pilots any more than framers would prefer a hammer to a nailgun. Economics favor automation over human pilots, DARPA’s ALIAS program has developed excellent alternatives to human co-pilots, and a shortage of pilots will easily spur necessary changes in FAA rules. No this is not pilotless airline cockpits, this is one less pilot in two to four-pilot cockpits, which means a lot less demand for pilots. A young person would be looking at a 45+ year career as a commercial pilot, and not reaching their goal of senior captain until the last years of that career. Automation will certainly not wait 45 years to significantly impact their career.

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