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County backs flight rule change
November 05, 2015 Jerry Purvis   

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Scotts Bluff County has joined Gering in requesting the Federal Aviation Administration change its regulation that increases the number of flying hours pilots must have for commercial flights.

In 2013, the FAA increased the number of flight hours are required to fly larger aircraft from approximately 200 to 1,500. That has caused a shortage of pilots for smaller airlines.

“Pilots will usually come out of flight school with about 250 to 500 hours of flight time and they can go to work for a smaller airline,” said Darwin Skelton, Manager of the Western Nebraska Regional Airport. “With the increase to 1,500 hours, new commercial pilots can’t fly anymore.”

Because of the FAA ruling, Great Lakes Aviation, which provides local air service to Denver, has lost its ability to fly its 19-seat airplanes with new pilots.

To meet the new regulations, the airline removed 10 of the airplanes’ 19 seats. That effectively reduced the number of boardings the airline can accept and can cause other problems when flights are cancelled.

The letter to FAA administrators requests to allow pilots with fewer than 1,500 hours to still fly the 19-seat airplanes, just as they did until 2013.

“There just aren’t enough airplanes to fix the problem by flying nine passengers at a time,” Skelton told the county board.

“Claiming safety isn’t an issue either. Up until 2013 we had pilots flying with fewer than 1,500 hours. Pilots who work for any airline also have to go through their training program.”

After the commissioners’ meeting, Skelton said having the county join Gering in signing on the request letter lets the FAA know that smaller airports are serious about the problem. “Communities are concerned about this and the feds should be as well. If this doesn’t get fixed, over time even the larger airlines will feel the effects of what the FAA has done with this new regulation.”

Skelton said the airport continues to investigate potential airlines to provide air service once the Great Lakes contract expires at the end of 2016. Due to frequent cancellations, he said the public has lost trust in the airline, so are driving to Denver to make their flights.

Some of the possible airlines include Aerodynamics (ADI), which has been approved last year. However, management trouble delayed that company going through the FAA approval process. Since then, ADI has been sold to the west coast based Seaport Airlines, which must also go through the approval process with the FAA.

Other airlines being investigated include Boutique Airlines, which flies out of Alliance and Chadron to Denver, and Denver Air Connect, which has flights to Sheridan, Wyo. The airport had also been negotiating with the commuter branches of several major airlines, but that was put on hold once the FAA changed its regulations.
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