New Pilot Shortage Strategy: Rip Half the Seats Off the Airplane

Pop quiz. What is wrong with this seat map that recently popped up on Great Lakes Airlines’ website?

Nine Seat Beechcraft 1900

If you said it looks like there are seats missing, you’d be right. This is a Beechcraft 1900D, an airplane that most commonly has 19 seats. Nate, who writes EASFlights.com and pays close attention to these things, sent me a note showing that Great Lakes has recently put this seat map showing just nine seats onboard in its Flight Info section on its website. Why would anyone deliberately pull off more than half the seats on the airplane? Though I don’t know the official reason, this would be one way to get around the pilot shortage that cause the airline to shutter its Minneapolis hub. Let me explain.

Just about every airline in the US operates under 14 CFR Part 121. That’s part of the code of federal regulations. You’ll commonly hear it referred to as just Part 121. Any airline operating under Part 121 is subject to those new pilot rules requiring each hired pilot to have 1,500 hours of flying (with a few exceptions).

But there is another piece of the code, 14 CFR Part 135 (commonly just Part 135) that can apply to carriers that operate tiny airplanes. While it’s been said that safety at a Part 135 operator is comparable to a Part 121 operator, there’s no question that the rules are less restrictive. That more lax rulebook actually caused the federal government to act back in the 1990s.

Until the 1990s, operations under 30 seats could be conducted under Part 135. But in the mid-1990s, as scrutiny increased on the safety of regional operations, a rule was introduced that said scheduled Part 135 operators could only operate aircraft with fewer than ten seats. If you’re curious why we don’t see a lot of 19-seat aircraft anymore, that’s one reason. A Part 121 operation is more costly to run and the economics haven’t made nearly as much sense since the rule went into place.

Of the remaining operators in the 19-seat range, most aren’t as concerned about economics since they are operating a lot of Essential Air Service routes that are subsidized by the government. There’s only one problem with that. They can’t find pilots. As mentioned, Great Lakes shut its Minneapolis hub. Silver Airways has also said it will ditch its 19-seat operation, because it can’t find enough people to fly the airplanes. If you had a bunch of airplanes sitting on the ground with nobody to fly them, what would you do?

Well, if you started a separate airline that operated under Part 135, you would have lower operating costs, but more importantly, you could hire pilots that had fewer than the 1,500 hours required under the new regulations for Part 121 operators.

Though there seems to be conflicting information in the rules, my understanding is that under Part 135, the pilot in command has to have either 1,200 or 1,500 hours of experience, the latter being just as in Part 121. But the second in command? He or she only needs to have 250 hours of experience. The pool of pilots with between 250 and 1,500 hours is large, and this would allow Great Lakes to tap into that and operate a lot more flights.

The natural reaction is… isn’t that insane to run a 19-seat airplane with only 9 seats? In the normal world, yes. That would mean your costs are going to be much higher on a per-seat basis. But we’re not in the normal world. We’re in Essential Air Service world. And in Essential Air Service world, airlines are lucky to get 9 people in those 19 seats on a good day.

Pull out all those seats, and the airplane is lighter. So if Great Lakes isn’t running with more than 9 seats filled anyway, it would end up being cheaper to do. And it’s much easier. Kind of brilliant, actually, assuming the feds don’t find some reason to kill this plan.

Is it a safety issue? Well, the pilots that Great Lakes can find would be the same ones that were probably going to get hired at another regional before the new rules. There are plenty of very good pilots with fewer than 1,500 hours that should be flying. So as long as they hire right, it wouldn’t be a safety issue from that perspective. There’s obviously a lot more to Part 135 than just pilot hiring, and I can’t speak to any safety ramifications of that, but there are plenty of airlines who have safely operated under Part 135 for years.

As I said, I don’t have an official word on why this is happening, but I can’t think of another reason why you’d bother pulling seats off the airplane.

(Visited 2,401 times, 1 visits today)

Get Posts via Email When They Go Live or in a Weekly Digest

Leave a Reply

56 Comments on "New Pilot Shortage Strategy: Rip Half the Seats Off the Airplane"

avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
NetworkLlama
Guest

This looks to me like a clever way of getting around the hours requirements while also cutting down on costs required to get those pilots up to 1500 hours. Depending on the number of hours they can sneak in, they should be able to do that in a year at most. If the government is subsidizing those hours, it helps Great Lakes (and eventually others) refill the pilots pool. It’s a short-term hit for longer-term viability of the company and maybe the industry.

David
Guest

Truly the free market at work. Somebody in Washington is going to be seriously unhappy about this though !

Old Candide
Guest
How on earth is that the “free market?” If a company cannot attract enough pilots to staff their operation (which is most certainly the problem GLA faces) wouldn’t the free market suggest that increasing the compensation might attract more applicants? If anything, a 9 seat 1900 is simply a company’s way to avoid dealing with the realities of the free market, which is that the compensation package is so bad that there is simply no longer a supply of pilots willing to work for the compensation offered. Did the government stop the company from increasing the compensation? In the case… Read more »
Travis McCrea
Guest

Plus the flight is only operating due to government subsidies. I am okay with this, I lived in Alaska, I know how important those are… but it’s not a free market.

Neil S.
Guest

As a passenger, that looks lovely.

I flew ORD – LGA last week on a DL E175 that only had 10 people on it. Bad for DL, super amazing for me!

Let’s have them all pull half the seats out.

Oh wait – am I missing the point?!?

Sherman Kensinga
Member
There are efforts underway in Congress to allow Great Lakes Air to fly single-pilot with this seat configuration. It will not open up jobs to low-hour pilots, it will open up an opportunity for GLA to charge low-time pilots to sit in the right seat. Miami-based Jet International charges $57/hour for “co-pilots” to sit in the right seat and log hours. This is about more money for Great Lakes Airlines. By the way, tickets on some Great Lakes routes have gone up 40% in the past six months, with no increase in costs including pilot pay. They aren’t hurting for… Read more »
Brad
Guest

Great Lakes is not going to charge the second in command to sit in the right seat. The airplane requires two crew. They will pay the FO $16 an hour.

Andrew
Guest

Gulfstream / Gulf-something (who I think then became Silver Wings) charged their FO’s for the privilege of sitting in the right seat and building time. They were part of the crew and were appropriately minimally licensed to be an FO on a 1900 SAAB or whatever aircraft they were using at the time.

Kevin
Guest

You can get a single pilot type rating for a Beech 1900…. therefore, if the regulation will allow it, there is no need for a First Officer.

Steve
Guest

This is true. I have a single pilot B1900 rating and I got it at GLA.

Joey
Guest

They don’t have auto pilot so it cannot be a single pilot aircraft. Unless they install it of course, which I doubt will happen.

Brad
Guest

Not saying I wouldn’t like more pay as an airline pilot but no major airline starts pilots at 20-25K per year, c’mon now, do some research

Andrew
Guest

Absolutely a commuter of this size would pay a pilot in the 20’s. As a matter of fact, Pacific Wings pays their CAPTAINS starting out $30,200 in their first year. Beginning FO’s their first year make LESS than $20,000.00.

fly4food
Guest
I worked for Continental Express airlines in 1994, my base pay was just under (yes under) $13,000/yr. this isn’t the lowest in the history of the airline industry. When I worked as a Captain, this is an upgrade from First Officer (co-pilot) my pay wen’t up to about $22,000/yr. so I know what low is. add to this when we were hired we were paid nothing during training, even our own living expenses and had to pay $9,000 to take a certification course to fulfill our commitment to the job offer. The History of the Airline business was even worse.… Read more »
Joe Smoe
Guest
$9,000 to take a certification course??? There were other jobs out there back then…you just had to have higher qualifications (flight hours) to get them. What you guys did was “buy your job”. Think other pilots have forgotten? I got the same call from a Continental Express pilot recruiter back in 1994. Actually, after questioning them a bit, they admitted they were from Flight Safety. That was the company taking the 10 grand to train these guys. The benefit to the regional airlines at the time was they didn’t have to spend any capitol on training. Why spend the money… Read more »
Chip
Guest
I guess its all how you look at it. Most every position out there (not a job) requires an education. Doctors, lawyers,veterinarians etc all start their first position in debt due to the college degrees that are required. I know you spent well in excess of that 10 grand. (Probably more than double) to get in the right seat but look at where you are now! My Dad always told me to love what you do and you will never work a day in your life! I know there are hundreds of views on this, but for me I would… Read more »
DesertGhost
Guest

Whenever a law is enacted, two statutes take effect; the law itself, and the law of unintended consequences. This is a classic example of the law of unintended consequences at work.

jboekhoud
Member

That’s a great line!

A
Guest

More legroom in row 4!

David
Guest

Why did the airline keep 8 seats bunched together ?
Why not instead keep seats in rows 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 so that everyone aboard gets huge amounts of leg room ? Could even be used as a marketing tactic – 60 inches of legroom in coach

Kev
Guest

My guess is weight nd balance perposes

Steve
Guest

PERPOSES!!!!

Mike
Guest

Keeping them bunched together right over the wing helps keep the center of gravity within limits without having to add ballast or switch passengers around.

Brad
Guest

Row 1: This seat acts as a “jumpseat” and observer seat. It has a headphone jack for flight training/observation purposes.

Mke
Guest

next EAS bidding round, someone bids with a more economical airframe.
it might be lighter without the seats but you are still flying around a plane built for 19 passengers!

passengers may have a dislike for single engine aircraft but a single engine turboprob is extremely reliable.

maybe a used cessna caravan? can fit 9 seats easily with significantly lower operating cost.

Mke
Guest

@ david –
weight & balance.
no need to tell passengers every flight that people will need to move to the middle. (as not every flight will have all 9 passengers.)
might not be possible to get it within envelope if 1,3 and 5 show up and 9 if free.
havnt flown the 1900 though.

noahkimmel
Member

Wonder if they will reconfigure with awesome legroom. Make a more “premium feel”

David SF eastbay
Member

Smart idea. The Congress members who’s states would be loosing service for lack of pilots should be happy about this.

So seat 1A must be the first class section ……lol

Nick Barnard
Member

1A probably is placed where it is because its right next to a door. There is probably a regulation that someone must be within X feet of a door. 4A was too far back.

Although, I get a kick out of the seats being 4A and 4C.. Nice reminder that there was a 9B on this plane..

Donald
Guest

“1A probably is placed where it is because its right next to a door.”
No, most likely again for weight and balance. If you had passengers
without checked bags, large bag count and too few passengers, or a
big freight shipment are a few possibilities that would require that
seat be used. I had a case in an EMB-145 where I had to seat everyone as
far forward as possible, because the post office showed up with a truck
full of mail and a plea.

Donald
Guest

Another thing I forgot,was there must be a seat available for the FAA
inspector to observe the crew in flight during flight.

james
Guest

For many flights (EAS mostly?) that shouldn’t even make a difference given the loads. I had a flight booked DEN-EAR (Kearney, NE) in which I was the only passenger on board.

I was looking forward to the experience of a “private plane”. Unfortunately the flight was cancelled.

Ron
Guest

Last year I took a Silver Airways flight in Montana on a Beech 1900D, with only 4 passengers on board; from talking to the ground crew it appeared that this was a fairly normal load. Silver has since dropped all of its Montana routes, and they’ve been picked up by Cape Air flying 9-seat Cessnas.

Brian
Guest

1,500 hours required for the captain, as required by 14 CFR 135.243(a)(1). This would be a “commuter” operation as defined by 14 CFR 119. The 1,200 hour requirement would be for charter flights, not scheduled flights.

Chicago Chris
Member

This certainly sounds plausible, but don’t the EAS contracts have a minimum seat availability requirement?

I thought when Great Lakes puts in the bid for the route they have to say how many seats they’ll fly. If they’re changing the number of seats in the aircraft, couldn’t that mean they’re breaking the contract?

RICH
Guest

NOTE to Self
DO NOT fly on Great Lakes Airline

Donald
Guest

This would really help the pilot shortage. Operators could team up with flight schools and offer
free copilot time to the graduates. Or charge the would be copilots for the experience, so they can
build time. Don’t think so? Look for old copies of Flying from the 80s or 90s and check the classified
section

jaybru
Member
Fascinating issue. Pilot qualifications, safety, pilot pay, etc. As a passenger, I would just like to know I am going to arrive safely, whether I’m one of 400, or the only passenger on the plane, regardless of the size of the plane or the number of seats in it, however the seating is configured. Please convince me the DOT rules ensure that regardless of the type of plane I’m on, my pilot is properly trained and rested. It gives me a little pause to think that all pilots aren’t covered by the same DOT rules, regardless of what Part of… Read more »
haolenate
Guest
Jay, Well the problem is the bureaucrats didn’t want to hear it and no one really expected the shortage to be THIS bad. I know one airline CEO was actually out flying the line (doing trips to cover) because he is short pilots. The regionals are snapping up guys as quickly as they can. One of my airline clients is looking at a new payscale for their pilots – which will ultimately lead to higher fares, but will have longevity bonuses for first officers that upgrade to captain, then after 6 months get a large bonus, 1 year another, and… Read more »
Todd Howes
Guest
trackback

[…] New Pilot Shortage Strategy: Rip Half the Seats Off the Airplane | The Cranky Flier […]

matt
Guest

Just another way to keep from paying pilots real wages. Surprised that the FAA would even allow this. This publication is doing a real disservice to readers by claiming there is a pilot shortage. The only shortage is pilots who are dumb enough to take a regional job that pays $20K a year. Most are finally getting smart enough to stay away rather than go into debt to the amount of $100K or more to train for a job that pays $20K per year!

getting butt fucked by airlines
Guest
getting butt fucked by airlines

There Is No Pilot Shortage Because Of The New Rules. No one can afford to spend $100000 then only make $15000 a year. They treat people like shit and expect them to keep coming. Hell some airlines dont give flight attendants an hourly rate and force them to live off of commissions from the pop and peanuts they whore out.

dan powers
Guest
This is all smoke and mirrors….there is no pilot shortage, there is however a wages shortage….you cannot operate a BE-1900D with 9 passengers 100% of the time and break even ; JET-A is like $3 per gallon..and each one of those PT-6 engines suck-up about 60g per hour. the tax payers are the ones subsidizing great lakes to fly planes. Great Lakes could make more money flying the planes with 19 passengers, by paying the co-pilots= $50k per year. At this wage pilots will be lined up for blocks trying to get the job. co-pilots have been under-payed for so… Read more »
Brad
Guest
Two years ago there was no pilot shortage. The only question to ask is what has changed. Pilot salaries have not changed. Two events have occurred. The first was the beginning retiring of 65 year old pilots and the second was the 1500 hour rule. It is absurd to expect the airlines to anticipate this situation. When the rules changed nobody knew how many qualified pilots were in the pool. Also for the low time prospects did the author expect the airlines to hand out $100,000 checks to get pilots up to the 1500 level? Even if the starting salary… Read more »
F.O. mafia 4 life
Guest
You ask what has changed in the last two years? The shortage was here two years ago, but it was not readily apparent because of the age 65 rule. Retirements have only recently resumed after the mandatory retirement age being changed from 60 to 65. So for 5 years there were almost no retirements in the industry. The staffing problems that we are seeing today would have been seen five years ago had it not been for the age 65 rule. The new rest rules and ATP requirement are not to blame, but make a great scapegoat for airline management… Read more »
BuzzSaw
Guest
It is amazing to what length and effort people will do to get out rules and laws. CEOs will moan, groan and blame Congress, the FAA and anybody else they can, except themselves. “Congress and the FAA is ruining my crap turd airline.” All Great Lakes Mgt had to do was raise wages above food stamps and they might have avoided this problem. Great Lakes pay is the ABSOLUTE BOTTOM of all the regional industry. More $$, no more regional pilot shortage! Congress with input from all the players, Airlines, ALPA and the FAA decided 1500 hours was the minimum… Read more »
BuzzSaw
Guest

Maybe we could out source all the regional flying to Mexican, Turkish or Indian airlines? However we would have to teach them English IAW the FARs. Maybe the FAA would exempt them on the read, speak and understand English requirement too? It would save a few $$.

Dale
Guest
Although there are some EAS markets where a 9-seat aircraft would fit demand well, there are issues of EAS minimums and of market demand. With few exceptions in the lower 48, EAS communities are guaranteed at least 12 flights per week with 15 or more seats. Airports only get 9-seat EAS service by agreeing to waive the requirement, and sometimes what leads them to do so is the prospect of more frequent service. The more pressing issue is that for many EAS markets a 9-seat BE1 is too small. I did a quick check of average daily enplanements at several… Read more »
Mark Skinner
Guest
The fact that airlines are seriously considering ripping out the seats, and yet still get EAS subsidies is a big red light that these subsidies are way too high. Think about it. These airlines are saying that they can still make a buck operating planes that are relatively big compared to the demand if they take out seats. So an operator with a smaller plane could do the task, and at less cost. So why is the taxpayer susidising a bigger plane than necessary? If the demands are that low that carriers can do this and still make money, then… Read more »
John
Guest

Would be nice if they made those seats wider than the usual 17-18 inches. Make then 24 inch wide seats. That’ll give them a real edge.

Brad
Guest
This is great plan. In the passenger carrying configuration the aircraft requires two crew. Because of that the low time FO will be able to build time. GL accomplishes two goals here. First they will provide limited passenger air service. Second they will take low time FOs and build them up to 1500 hours where they can be moved to their 121 operation. Because the FO has signed a contract that says they will pay a big fine if they leave before a year or so, GL can count on getting their training investment back. If for one minute you… Read more »
Gary
Guest
I think I can beat nine seats on a plane. How about two – or if not just two seats, then how about just two passengers on a 727 no less? My friend and I were travelling on the evening before the San Francisco Moratorium Peace March, on November 14, 1969, from Phoenix to SFO. The late evening flight stopped first in Oakland before taking off again and crossing the bay in what certainly must have rivalled the one between Westray and Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands for the title of the shortest flight in the world. I don’t… Read more »
Tamita Wandler
Guest

Effective January 4, 2014, FAR Part 117 replaced the previous scheduling and rest requirements of Part 121. Encompassing Pilot Flight and Duty Time Limitations, Rest Requirements, Fatigue Education and Awareness Training, and Fitness for Duty.

Could we expect an article explaining the nuances?

Nicole
Guest
1a is still there due to the fact that it’s still technically an emergency exit and someone other than the fo needs to have immediate access to that door. For the middle seats 4a4c, 5a5c & 7a7c are there for weight and balance if the aircraft due to the cargo in the back tail end of the plane and 6a6c and also 4c I believe are all emergency exit doors that will need to have someone there to access them immediately in case of an emergency. If you think about it it’s all very strategic, it’s not just random seats… Read more »
trackback

[…] change has been noticed elsewhere. Blogger Brett Snyder, also known as CrankyFlier, writes, "Just about every airline in the US operates under 14 CFR Part 121. That's part of the code of […]

wpDiscuz