Mason City, Fort Dodge, Kansas airport managers ask USDOT to approve application for regional charter jet service

MASON CITY — Managers from Mason City, Fort Dodge, and four Kansas airports held a news conference earlier today asking the US Department of Transportation to approve an application for SkyWest Charter to provide scheduled charter jet service under the Essential Air Service program to those communities.

SkyWest Airlines in April launched the SkyWest Charter subsidiary in an attempt to alleviate the pilot shortage faced by many regional airlines serving airports under the Essential Air Service program. SkyWest’s solution is to retrofit some of its jets with 30 seats and operate them under a charter authority, which requires pilots to have only 500 hours of flight experience, compared to the 1500 hours of experience needed for a traditional airline pilot or first officer. 

The USDOT in May turned down SkyWest Charter’s proposal to provide Essential Air Service to Scottsbluff Nebraska. The Air Line Pilots Association International union has opposed the plan, saying it jeopardizes aviation safety standards.

Skywest Charter’s chief commercial officer Wade Steel says his company’s safety programs far exceed the requirements of the FAA’s Part 135 charter authority rules.  “We plan to launch operations with dual captains on our flight deck and are committed to using pilots with an ATP license, and yes, that means those with 1500 hours in both seats. This is a commitment that no other Part 135 carrier has made.”

Steel says SkyWest Charter has waited for over a year for the USDOT to approve their application for commuter authority and says it’s time for the agency to act and not leave smaller commercial airports in limbo for future air service.  “There is nothing new in this application, and others are regularly exercising this authority with lesser standards and without opposition. We are simply seeking fairness in approving a clearly fit operator so SWC can provide safe, reliable services as the industry works through the ongoing captain shortage.”

Mason City Municipal Airport manager David Sims says north-central Iowa relies on having commercial air service out of the airport, but that’s getting tougher under the Essential Air Service program.  “The number of quality providers for EAS service continues to drop just due to the pressures from the pilot shortage. For the last several years, SkyWest has come in and been providing safe and quality airline service to communities. However they are now being limited due to the pilot shortage. We know that a highly qualified operator like SkyWest Charter will be able to provide our community with exceptional air service.”

Sims says there’s no regulatory reason why SkyWest Charter’s authorization should be withheld. “We’re concerned that SkyWest Charter’s application has been allowed to languish at the DOT for over a year. We understand their application is being contested by various groups who continue making false claims about the safety and security of SkyWest Charter, however, SkyWest Charter has committed to meeting and exceeding all existing FAA and TSA regulations, including having two pilots who have 1500 hours or more.”

SkyWest Airlines in March 2022 filed a 90-day notice that they were pulling out of 29 communities, including Mason City and Fort Dodge, but the DOT ordered the airline to continue service until it found a suitable replacement.