Officials at Cape Air blamed a pilot shortage for recent flight cancellations at Billings Logan International Airport, in Montana, according to the Billings Gazette. Officials with the regional airline said 16 flights have been grounded over the last few days because pilots couldn’t be scheduled. An airline spokesperson said they have brought in pilots from other markets and have teamed up with Jet Blue and seven universities to help get pilots trained and fill the empty seats. Since 2013, first officers for Part 121 operations must have an ATP and 1,500 hours to fill jobs that previously required just 250 hours and a commercial certificate. Cape Air operates flights under both Part 121 and Part 135, which requires 500 hours total time for first officers.
The Air Line Pilots Association has disputed claims by U.S. airlines of a pilot shortage. “Thousands of highly qualified and experienced U.S. airline pilots are either furloughed or working overseas and eager to return to U.S. airline cockpits—under the right conditions,” Capt. Lee Moak, president of ALPA, said last year. Pilot jobs at regional airlines typically offer low pay and few benefits. Cape Air says at its website that first-year Cessna 402 captains earn an average salary of $31,000 to $40,000 per year, depending on their schedules. Benefits include a health-care package and family travel privileges.
Cape Air is one of the biggest independent regional operators in the U.S., with more than 500 flights a day nationwide and in the Caribbean, including five communities in Montana. The company operates a fleet of 83 Cessna 402s, 4 British Islanders, 2 Cessna Caravan amphibians, and 2 ATR turboprops, carrying more than 735,000 passengers a year.