SkyWest wants to end its twice-daily flights between Washington’s Dulles International Airport and Plattsburgh International Airport in upstate New York. The airline has given the US Department of Transportation 90 days’ notice it intends to exit the essential air service contracted route.
Pilot shortages behind SkyWest’s decision to exit northeast regional airports
Blaming pilot shortages, the St George, Utah-based airline is also quitting the Washington Dulles – Ogdensburg route. That route is also a contracted essential air service. SkyWest operates 12 return flights a week on both routes for United Airlines via their United Express brand using 50-seat CRJ200s.
Clinton County Legislator Bobby Hall told local media he’d heard SkyWest was pulling out of the US northeast. He says the Plattsburgh-Dulles flights did well, generally flying with 80% passenger loads.
“I’m disappointed in this, but I think the Plattsburgh Airport has a proven track record. We’re confident that we’re going to be able to attract another airline in here,” he said.
While SkyWest wants to cease flying both routes in April, that’s not a done deal yet. If SkyWest walks before a contract gets signed with another airline, they’ll become ineligible for future essential air services contracts and funding.
“They would have to stay until July if we don’t have another carrier,” says Bobby Hall. “If we have another carrier, they can leave in the 90 days without any problem at all.”
Financial penalties mean SkyWest cannot leave airports until a replacement airline is found
According to ch-aviation.com, SkyWest’s two year contract to fly Dulles – Plattsburgh doesn’t expire until June 30, 2022. That contract is worth US$3.3 million annually. Only renewed last March, the contract for the Dulles-Ogdensburg service runs for three years. This route reaps SkyWest a tidy US$4.7 million annually.
“SkyWest continues navigating staffing challenges generated by a surge in COVID cases. As a result of these challenges, we expect to discontinue United Express service at Plattsburgh this spring,” the airline said in a statement.
“We are disappointed by the news, but we also realize that the last two years with the COVID pandemic, it’s caused some unprecedented challenges for the airline industry,” said a spokesperson for Plattsburgh International Airport. “We look forward to future opportunities if they present themselves to work with them.”
SkyWest also axes Dulles-Ogdensburg flights
SkyWest first started flying to Plattsburgh in 2018 and has carried approximately 89,000 passengers to and from Washington Dulles since then.
Local politician Bobby Hall has a keen interest in the airline industry and Plattsburgh International Airport, having served as Chairman of the Clinton County Airport Committee. Clinton County is the owner of the airport. Bobby Hall thinks Plattsburgh won’t have a problem attracting another carrier. The issue is getting the right airline that flies to the right destinations.
The situation is gloomier at Ogdensburg. The departure of SkyWest leaves that airport without a scheduled carrier. Allegiant Airlines did fly to Florida from the airport but left in 2020. Skywest formerly flew in from Chicago but ended those flights last year.
Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority, which runs the airport, says COVID-19 has hit the airport hard and passenger movements have dropped by two thirds. The Authority is issuing a request for proposals from other air carriers and notes under the terms of the existing essential air services contract, SkyWest cannot leave until a replacement airline is found.