The Hays Regional Airport has released the November On-Time Report which details the status of all scheduled flights. According to the document, 39.5% of the flights scheduled in and out of Hays were cancelled.
Airport manager Bob Johnson told Hays Post that while some of these flights were cancelled because of adverse weather, the majority of the flights were cancelled because of a shortage in pilots due to the FAA’s change in regulations.
Recently, the FAA increased the number of flights hours required to become a first pilot from 1000 to 1500. The change was made to improve flight safety in the wake of numerous accidents involving pilots with fewer flights hours.
Johnson said that pilots with smaller airlines are often building up their time in order to become an asset to a major airline, which can pay up to twice as much as smaller regional airlines. He says that between some pilots no longer able to be considered a first pilot and those that are leaving Great Lakes and other airlines for higher pay, there is a significant shortage.
However, there may be good news on the horizon for the Hays Regional Airport. At the Hays City Commission Meeting being held tonight, city manager Toby Dougherty will be presenting bids for service to the airport. One of those bids is from a larger provider, SkyWest Airlines.
SkyWest airlines is in the top 10% of all US airlines for scheduled flights departing on-time, which means it does not suffer from the same pilot shortage that Great Lakes does. According to the bid, the average fare for flights to Denver through SkyWest will be $99. Bids from Great Lakes place the average fare just over $125. Service through SkyWest could begin as early as next spring.
Johnson added that the airport provides tremendous economic benefit to the community, and a larger airline (which he has been pushing for since he became the airport manager) would contribute to that. He says that something has to be done to improve flight consistency in Hays.
“According to the state, KDOT, and their last economic impact study, the airport brings approximately $24.6 million a year into the area. It’s a very big impact. 178 people have either all or part of their job affected by the airport. And anytime it gets that way, it hurts.”
Tonight’s city commission meeting is at 6:30 pm at 1507 Main St. There will be a time for citizen comments early on in the meeting.