American Cuts Three Cities from Network Owing to Pilot Shortage

American Airlines announced that it will soon cut off three more cities from its route network because of a regional pilot shortage.



January 7, 2023

DALLAS — American Airlines (AA) has announced that it will be cutting off three more cities from its route network soon, not because of unprofitability but because of a regional pilot shortage. One of those destinations will then end up without a commercial service from any major airline.

The cities affected by this move are Long Beach Airport (LGB), which is currently connected by AA to Phoenix-Sky Harbor (PHX) with three daily frequencies; Columbus Metropolitan Airport (CSG), with flights to both Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), and Charlotte-Douglas (CLT); and finally, Del Rio Airport (DRT), whose only commercial flight arrives from DFW twice-a-day.

This means that passengers cannot fly out from DRT to any other American city on commercial flights. Instead, they will need to seek an alternative in San Antonio (SAT) or San Angelo (SJT), among little others, which are at least 130 miles away.

American Airlines has blamed the cuts, which were all operated by regional partners, on the ongoing pilot shortage and "soft demand": "We're extremely grateful for the care and service our team members provided to our customers in these cities and are working closely with them during this time, we'll proactively reach out to customers scheduled to travel to offer alternate arrangements."

The date of the operational stop in LGB, DRT, and CSG is yet to be confirmed, but when made, it will increase the number to a total of 19 destinations cut off from AA's network since the start of the pandemic.

Not a single regional flight branded as American is actually operated by American, but by partner operators such as SkyWest or Envoy Air. Photo: Michael Rodeback/Airways

How Regional Aviation Works In The US

Regional aviation, in general terms, operates in a completely different way than medium and long-haul aviation. This is because, usually, regional flights are costly to operate.

This creates a challenging situation for airlines, which must choose between raising prices to cover costs and lose demand or lower prices to raise demand rather than cover costs. To solve that, the US Government has been launching an "Essential Air Service" Program for several years, which helps carriers make regional travel both affordable for passengers and profitable for airlines through government subsidies.

However, the particular situation in the US comes from who operates these regional flights. Even though you can see a Bombardier CRJ-700 flying branded as American (AA), Delta (DL), or United (UA), the aircraft itself is not operated by any of those.

It is instead flown by regional partner operators such as SkyWest Airlines, which, as it only focuses on regional travel, can perfectly match and adapt their costs to the regional market and be profitable, even when flying for a different carrier on such a problematic sector.

In American Airlines' case, the fleet of Bombardier CRJ-700 and CRJ-900 aircraft is operated by SkyWest (OO), PSA Airlines (OH), and Mesa Airlines (YV). In contrast, the Embraer ERJ-145, 170, and 175 are all operated mainly by Envoy Air (MQ), Piedmont Airlines (PT), and Republic Airlines (YX) while still being branded as AA flights.

Featured image: Francesco Cecchetti/Airways