United Airlines has announced that it is axing 29 routes in the coming months due to a pilot shortage. The routes are currently operated with regional partner SkyWest Airlines.

SkyWest Airlines gave notice to the Department of Transportation earlier this week to say it was withdrawing the routes indefinitely.

“As a result of an ongoing pilot staffing imbalance across the industry, SkyWest expects to discontinue service in several markets beginning this summer.”

The affected airports are all covered by the Essential Air Service, a federal program that aims “to maintain a minimal level of scheduled air service to communities that would otherwise not be profitable.”

Authorities may intervene

It’s thought that the Department of Transportation may intervene in the decision and require SkyWest to continue operating the flights until a replacement is sourced.

Sioux city iowa is currently served by skywest airlines as united express
Sioux City in Iowa is one of the cities having its service cut by United | © Tony Webster

In the meantime, SkyWest has said it intends to contact passengers with bookings beyond the notice period to advise them to make alternative arrangements.

The regional airline told staff that those affected by the decision will be offered employment elsewhere, along with other options not outlined in the statement.

Regional routes victims of the pandemic

Regional services have faced blow after blow over the course of the pandemic with staff shortages and rising fuel costs among the factors challenging their existence.

Some commentators disagree with the Essential Air Service – Henry Harteveldt, a leading travel analyst, told reporters that airlines don’t have a “civic responsibility” to operate unprofitable routes and should cut services that do not “give them an advantage.”

All the axed routes are operated on behalf of United Airlines under the name United Express.

SkyWest also operates flights with Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and Delta. It is the largest regional airline in North America when measured by fleet size and the number of passengers carried.

Do airlines have a civic responsibility to serve isolated communities? Let us know in the comments below.

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