Cape Air files intent to end service at SEI Regional airport

Cape Air, which began services in February, has filed a notice to end Essential Air Services out of Southeast Iowa Regional Airport in Burlington due to a pilot shortage. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

Pilot shortage to blame struggles of several EAS providers in Iowa

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

BURLINGTON – Although Cape Air has filed an intent to end its Essential Air Service out of Burlington, the company said Friday they are committed to providing some degree of services in the interim.

A Cape Air spokesperson wrote in a statement Friday that the air carrier sent its intention to the Department of Transportation that due to pilot shortages they intend to terminate services in the area.

“Unfortunately, Cape Air has notified the Department of Transportation (DOT) of our intent to terminate Essential Air Service (EAS) to both Quincy, IL and Burlington, IA. This decision was not made lightly, as we have valued the opportunity to serve these communities. Like many airlines, we are managing operational constraints primarily having to do with the nationwide pilot shortage” said Linda Markham, President & CEO of Cape Air.

“As a longtime provider of EAS and as a community partner, we understand the critical role air service plays in these communities. Until another airline can guarantee service, Cape Air has committed to making our best efforts for reliable and consistent service at both Quincy and Burlington.”

Sara Sandburg of Southeast Iowa Regional Airport said if the pilot shortage should change dramatically in the time frame, Cape Air’s notice could be pulled, but right now things are business as usual dependent on pilot availability.

She said DOT will now put out requests for quotes (RFQ) for proposals to provide service in Burlington.

“Those proposals, should there be any, will be scrutinized for ability to meet all the criteria and will be forwarded to the Southeast Iowa Regional Airport Authority Board for review,” Sandburg wrote Friday in an email to Pen City Current.

She said in the event those pieces come together, the airport board would hold a community presentation to gather public comment and then make a recommendation back to the DOT, who has ultimate authority to make a decision on a service provider.

If no proposals are received and accepted, Cape Air would remain under contract to fulfill service for the full four years of its contract.

Sandburg said the airlines nationwide is experiencing pilot shortages.  

“It has been on the radar for the past five years, but the pandemic accelerated this through furloughs, early retirements, or simply change of careers.  In 2020, there were no travelers/passengers, flight schedules nationwide were reduced, the need for pilots were reduced…now everyone is ready to bust out and travel, thus the shortage of pilots,” she wrote.

“The small airports are feeling this first, as pilots are moving up to fill the larger company pilot positions.  What will most likely happen, the larger airlines will feel it when the regional airports cannot get the passengers from the rural areas to the larger hubs to fill those seats.”

Sky West, another regional flyer that services smaller airports in Iowa is in the middle of the same notification process.

“And much like Sky West to our other Iowa airports, we will be working to do what we can to retain Cape Air here.”

She said an increase in the amount of training hours from 250 to 1,500 following a crash of a small carriers on the east coast has also created burdens in getting licensed pilots into the system.

“Yes, there is a chance flights could be canceled up and down the schedule for a while, but we are hoping the community will still support this airport, as it is vital to economic development, and help us get through to the other side of pilot shortage,” Sandburg wrote.

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