Saturday, March 10, 2007

Trouble in the Skies, But Options Expand

The Federal Aviation Administration has grounded Regions Air, the commuter airline operating the American Connection flights from St. Louis to Williamson County and a host of other small airports around the Midwest.

From the Southeast Missourian of Cape Girardeau:
An FAA spokeswoman, Laura Brown, said the federal agency has a signed consent from the airline to suspend operations.

...Brown said while the previous problem was with RegionsAir's manual, later in the week the agency discovered actual airmen were unqualified, so the airline was shut down a second time.

"We determined that the line check airmen, the pilots who instruct and check out other pilots, were not properly trained themselves," Brown said. She declined to elaborate.

Although this is the second time in as many weeks the FAA has shut down the airline's operations, this apparently has been building. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin's office released a statement Friday noting that the senator had been personally working to address the issue for at least the last four weeks.

Durbin promised that air service would return soon.
"The U.S. Department of Transportation, working with the affected communities, has accelerated their efforts to find a reliable replacement carrier and will be announcing their decision shortly."

According to the Post-Dispatch RegionsAir, which operates 27 daily flights in and out of Lambert Field, "has been up for sale since last fall."

The Williamson County Airport Authority has a news conference scheduled for Monday with additional information. In their own statement released Friday, the airport backed the efforts of Great Lakes Airlines to take over the flights.
"The Williamson County Airport Authority is as frustrated as everyone with the recent events that have led to Regions Air terminating their operations. We are confident that the Department of Transportation will work diligently with Great Lakes Airlines as the carrier that we have recommended to take over operations to St. Louis as quickly as possible.

Though we realize this interruption of service is an inconvenience to everyone, it is far better than trying to hold into place an airline that has continued to provide unreliable service to Southern Illinois."

It looks like Williamson County recommended Great Lakes because they were 1) not RegionsAir, and 2) they offered the lowest bid, at least that's what happened in Missouri.

In a separate story, the Southeast Missourian provided some additional information.

They reported that out of the four airlines bidding for the current contracts to fly out of St. Louis, Great Lakes submitted the lowest bid at least for service out of Cape Girardeau. The other three bidders were RegionsAir, Mesa Airlines (which operates the flights from Marion to Chicago), and Big Sky.

Despite the low bid, the airport authority in Cape Girardeau decided this week to cancel essential air service to St. Louis and instead switched their federal subsidies for flights out of Cincinnati where Delta Airlines is big and the airport handles nearly twice as many flights as Lambert.

While the move ends air service to St. Louis from southeast Missouri, it's good news for us in Southern Illinois as it gives the Heartland a direct connection to a third major airport besides Lambert Field and Midway in Chicago.

Although air service from Williamson County to St. Louis is disrupted by the shutdown, it does not affect Mesa Airline's service from Williamson County to Chicago that began last month.

No comments: