SkyWest Hopes To Save Small Market Routes With Charter Subsidiary


SkyWest may have found a neat workaround to sustain scheduled service to small markets while filling the flight decks with its most experienced captains and least experienced FOs. The regional giant has created a small charter subsidiary called SkyWest Charter LLC (SWC) and applied for a Part 135 commuter air carrier authorization. It proposes to use CRJ-200s with 30 passenger seats to serve communities that have lost or are at risk of losing scheduled service because of the staffing shortage. As a charter, the new subsidiary is not covered by the minimum 1500-hour experience rule for right seaters, nor is it bound by the 65-year-old mandatory retirement age for old hands. FOs will need a commercial multi-IFR certificate and 250 hours and the captains can keep flying until they lose their medicals.

The big SkyWest has already flown the same aircraft on the same routes, and the charter would potentially prevent the mother airline from cutting or eliminating service to those communities. SkyWest says it’s ready to get the service going and is asking the FAA for a quick decision, listing 11 markets that could be cut. “The requested authority is critical to maintaining service in the underserved markets identified herein,” the company said in its submission. It also suggested the flying public will not notice a change in the service other than a livery change to remove the United Express association. “In fact, most of the key personnel have hands-on experience providing service in these markets with the same aircraft type that will be used by SWC making SWC particularly well suited to provide the scheduled commuter air transportation services for which authority is being requested.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. The 1,500-hour rule needs to go away. I barely had 200 hours when i moved into the right seat of a 4-engine jet. We all did in those days. I kinda think that today’s new pilots can do it too.

    • Who had only 200 hours in what days? When I moved into the right seat of a TWA 707 I had some 2,400 hours in airplanes from Cessna 140s to Aero Commanders. And, I was just hanging on for the first couple of months. A few years later TWA had one class of “200 hour wonders.” Yes, one class and that ended that.

    • Depends on smarts, thus on hiring, coaching, and firing.

      I’ve related my observation on check rides behind pilots of Hercules airfreighter, great difference between pilots even considering hours of experience.

  2. The 1,500 hour rule needs to stay put as proved by the rule changes following Colgan February 2009. What needs to go away is the age 65 rule for 121.

    Secondly, the original pilot shortage was caused because the airlines started eating their young about 30 years ago. When the airlines started hiring warm bodies to fill the right seats 30 years ago the action obliterated the CFI pool at almost all airports. Hence the reason for the pilot shortage today. No longer were the days when a CFI could be found at your local airport. Now the CFI pool is expanding and there is a chance at having a teaching force one again…….that its until some genius at Skywest figured out a way to destroy the CFI pool once again. No teachers, no pilots. Simple math.

    My prediction. 1. The regionals will be fighting to serve EAS cities. 2. Three years from now the NTSB will be thumbing through the smoldering wreckage of a commuter jet and determine that 135 should have a mandatory retirement age of 65, and a minimum of 1,500 hours for the right seat, because it worked so well for 121. Note to 135 operators….you have just been had.

    God bless.

    • I’m not sure how the post Colgan Air 1500 hour rule “proved” anything.
      The pilot on flight 3407 had over 3300 hours and the FO had over 2200.
      No internet to be disrespectful but you might want to check your facts before posting.

      • Thank you for your kind words.

        I am sorry. Your are correct. The rule changes didn’t prove anything. The zero accident rate, following the rule changes, proves everything. Thank you for the correction. Many rules changed post Colgan and because of Colgan. The 1,500 hours was just one of the changes. The combination of the rule changes changed the landscape of 121 accidents. Maybe those who made the rule changes knew that a 1,500 hour Cessna 172 CFI would at least know enough to push the throttles forward at the onset of a stall? Perhaps this is the reason for the change? To understand why the rule changed to 1,500 hours you will need to dig into the archives. You, not I.

        God bless.

    • The 1500 hour rule is stupid, IMHO. The typical civilian potential right seater gets his 1500 hours in as an instructor in a single engine piston aircraft. How that helps to prepare for a large turbine aircraft, I have no clue.

      • 1500 hours in a bug smasher might drill into them enough airmanship to know that power + pitch = performance, and prevent another Air France 447. Sometimes, as in that instance, lots of turbine hours didn’t result in basic airmanship. At the end of the day, what we really need are discerning tests of proficiency and airmanship, and willingness to wash out people who don’t demonstrate these qualities.

        • It might, or it might not. If it did, 90% of the airmanship was gained the first 750 hours, and the next 750 hours was mostly more of the same, depending on the person’s job(s).

  3. I assume this story came from a press release from Skywest. Sadly, they don’t detail how they are going to get around the FAR requirement that aircraft with 20 or more passenger seats must be operated under Part 121.

    I was a POI for one of the first Boeing BBJ (737) operators. There was a ton of pushback from various lines of business at FAA HQ even though Boeing had limited the payload through an amendment to the TC and AFM.

    If Skywest is going to try this with just an exemption request, I wish them good luck, but doubt it will happen.

  4. I doubt it will happen as well. In regards to the age/hours requirement, I understand the need for CFIs, but I don’t buy the reasoning that lowering the hours equals less CFIs. If the CFIs wanted to fly larger platforms, 135 is and has been open to them.
    Personally, I never agree with a age/hour requirement. One day you’re 64 and fully qualified, the next day you’re not?
    Similarly, a person with 1499 hours is not qualified but if you spend another hour in that cockpit, magically you are.
    More rigorous testing and training would be a much better judge of qualifications than setting superficial limits

    • As a newly minted Commercial Pilot with 250 hours let me think about my two options for a minute.

      1. Teach 7 days a week in a Cessna 150/172 for $45K/yr
      2. Be an FO in a regional Jet for $75K/yr with rapid and guaranteed advancement to the left seat or to a major.

      hmmmmm……………tough decision……..okay it didn’t take me a minute……… and thus the CFI pool loses one more CFI.

      For 135 one needs 500 hours to fly as PIC VFR and 1200 for IFR and or night….as I recall. If my recollection is correct regarding required flight times it makes me wonder how a 600 hour FO can command a 121 or 135 bird if the PIC is incapacitated or leaves the cockpit while IFR or at night? Just say’n…….

      And then there is CRM which has played such a great role in 121 safety. How many 250 hour pilots will say anything other than yes sir or yes mam? I suspect a 1,500 hour pilot is much more likely to be a CRM participant than a 250 hour pilot would be.

      God bless.

      • That assumes the end goal is to fly for the airlines, which might not be the case. Even if the goal is to fly 135, I know many who still instruct. But if the instructor is only instructing to build time and doesn’t actually want to instruct, they probably should take that 135 or 121 job anyway.

        I don’t think it’s really the career opportunities that is hurting the CFI pool, so much as it is the low pay and (even moreso) the liability they face these days.

      • What regional jet operator is going to hire a 250hr FO? When I had only 250, I was told that insurance companies wouldn’t allow me to be hired anywhere. I was actually told I needed 500 to tow banners or push skydivers out of a 172.

  5. The 250 hour rule worked just fine for the 50+ years I’ve had an aviation awareness. It’s all in the on the job training that new pilots get and the degree of supervision given by the senior Captain. Almost every Captain flying today arrived when the 250 hour rule was in effect and were subject to a very strict and disciplined “yes sir, no sir, how high sir” learning environment.

    • The 250 rule was in effect when I got my first commuter job. Except no one was getting hired with 250 hours. Everyone had more than 1500 hours total and more than couple hundred multi-engine. And a lot of commuter airlines required that you pay for initial training.

  6. Cape Air’s approach to business is of interest.

    It did intensity hiring practices, employing an HR person who is now CEO.
    Coincident with starting ATR operations in Micronesia it changed to FAR121 operations, I don’t know if that was connected as the ATR is a much larger airplane than Cape Air had earlier.

    Do note teaching crew coordination (I forget the buzzword for it), lacking in many crashes including First Air B737 at YRB – Captain mentally blind to indications and deaf to unassertive F/O pointing out they were not on the localizer course. In contrast to the F/O somewhere to the southeast who pushed on the brakes at start of takeoff roll because he saw that compass heading did not match runway number – his first trip into the area of compass unreliability, he’d forgotten they’d set the compasses to True heading.

  7. This is a cool work-around to offer on-demand services to replace cancelled scheduled flights. Which brings me to a question regarding Part 135: Is there are a minimum number of passengers that would trigger undertaking the flight? Or would the “ticket” price vary depending on how many passengers were wanting to fly on a given flight? How does the economical aspect of the flight work?

  8. If airlines can’t make a profit with 50 seat CRJ’s, how is 30 seats going to work? Is SkyWest going to expect those 250hr wonders to fly for nothing, or worse yet charge them to fly like was done years ago? As far as the “yes sir, no sir, how high sir” is concerned, that Captain attitude is why we have CRM training now. The last thing I would want is an FO who is just occupying the seat. I can make better use of that space putting maps or paperwork there.

  9. I summer in an area — literally — in the shadow of Oshkosh. We haven’t had a regular CFI on the field for over a decade. The IA is 80 years old. The nearest CFI (for FR’s) is 30 miles away and he is close to 80. One would think that this place — of ALL places — wouldn’t have that problem but it does.

    The FAA is NOT doing its job, IMHO. The whole thing is a complex system that needs to be addressed AS a complex system. Instead, the FAA is SO fixated on using “safety” as the shield driving all of its decisions and using their lawyer arm to codify it all that they lose sight of the forest for the trees. I don’t deny that safety IS paramount … but it’s only one factor in the larger “equation” of building an operable air traffic system. THEY treat it as the ONLY factor … which is blatantly wrong.

    At my local EAA Chapter, I’ve volunteered to be the focal point for the support and mentoring of people who want to become pilots or any other function within the Air Transportation system. My eyes have been opened as to the number of programs and scholarships and other opportunities for everyone … yet there aren’t enough takers.

    The growing number of ab initio programs major airlines are having to invent are proof positive that we have a problem — across the board — in this Country. I hope Skywest IS successful. Let ’em try it … let’s see how it goes.

  10. As a recently retired Instructor and Pilot Examiner I can say that the most common deficiency I observed in aspiring pilots was tendency toward automation-dependency and lack of basic airmanship skills. I can assure everyone that the proper response to stall recovery is NOT to press the autopilot “engage” button. The simple piloting skills of repeating the same departure, navigation to a point, and return to the same airport/runway ILS without completely reprogramming a FMS and following “V-bars”…. was impossible for most applicants. (Failing an engine and FMS during a departure almost certainly resulted in loss of control and/or orientation, even amongst 1500-hr applicants.)
    It is difficult to deny that a thousand hours as a CFI training primary students followed by another 1K hours in the right seat of a charter or commuter airline is a recipe for success today …just as it was 50 years ago. But the apparent object today is to get as many under-age and under-paid fly-by-rote bodies as possible into flat-screen cockpits and hand out packets of peanuts to the herd.
    As much as possible I’ll stay off the airlines of today, Thank You.