A shortage of pilots will leave Fort Dodge without airline service, at least temporarily, beginning on Saturday, according to the chief executive officer of Great Lakes Airlines.
”Due to the unintended consequences of the new congressionally mandated pilot regulatory requirements, the company feels it is in the best interest of our customers, communities and employees to suspend service from these stations until we are able to rebuild our staff of pilots in order to provide reliable service,” Charles Howell said in a written statement.
Great Lakes Airlines, based in Cheyenne, Wyo., is the only airline serving Fort Dodge Regional Airport. Its flights link Fort Dodge and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in Minnesota.
Since the beginning of the year, it has canceled 50 percent of its local flights, according to Rhonda Chambers, the director of aviation at Fort Dodge Regional Airport.
She told the City Council Monday that about two years ago, the airline had roughly 300 pilots. Now, she said, it has 98 pilots.
Chambers said the federal regulations that went into effect Aug. 1, 2013, require pilots to have more experience before they can fly commercial airliners. She said additional regulations that went into effect Jan. 4 require pilots to have longer rest periods between flights.
She said the airline would have to have 20 percent more pilots to comply with those rules.
Word of the upcoming suspension of flights first emerged Saturday.
Great Lakes Airlines began serving Fort Dodge in April 2012. It provides three roundtrips on weekdays and two on Saturdays and Sundays.
It receives an annual $1,798,693 grant through the federal Essential Air Service program to support its flights to and from Fort Dodge.
Chambers said the airline will not get any more of that money after it suspends its operations. She added that it did not get any federal money for the flights it previously canceled.
”If they don’t fly, they don’t get any money,” she said.
Anyone who has already purchased tickets for flights to or from Fort Dodge after Saturday will get refunds, according to the announcement from the airline.
Fort Dodge is not the only place where Great Lakes is suspending its service. Other affected cities are Devils Lake, N.D.; Ironwood, Mich.; Jamestown, N.D.; Mason City; and Thief River Falls, Minn.
Chambers said the ”airport commission and community partners will begin the process of regaining an air service carrier.
”The demand for consistent access to air service remains within our region and it is our intent to secure a carrier who can meet those needs,” she said.