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Cafe business hours, flight times changing at Riverton Regional Airport

Nov 29, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

The board says new Federal Aviation Administration rules have resulted in a pilot shortage in Riverton.

Passengers flying in and out of Riverton soon will see a few changes in flight schedules and business hours at the Airport Cafe, reported Riverton Regional Airport division manager Paul Griffin during a board meeting Friday.

Flight schedule changes will begin Sunday.

A majority of the changes are for Riverton departure flights. Most Saturday and Sunday flights will remain the same, and the airport will continue to conduct three incoming and outgoing flights per day. Most flight times will only change by a few minutes.

The Airport Cafe hours also are changing to 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday through Wednesday. The changes were made to reflect the business's busiest hours.

Fewer pilots

During the meeting, the airport board directed Griffin to draft a letter to Chuck Howell, the chief executive officer of Great Lakes Airlines, which operates at Riverton Regional Airport. The board said it wanted to address the pilot shortage in Riverton, which has been attributed to new Federal Aviation Administration pilot qualification standards.

"It's not just a Great Lakes issue, it's statewide, and there's no quick fix on the thing," Griffin said. "It's frustrating in our part, because they're calling us telling us their flights are canceled."

The new rule requires first officers or co-pilots to have 1,500 hours of flight time. Co-pilots previously were required to have only 250 hours. Great Lakes lost many of its pilots to bigger airlines after implementation of the new rule. Griffin said Great Lakes would hire pilots right out of flight school and train them, and when those pilots reached 1,500 hours, they usually moved on to other airlines.

"We have seen other carriers aggressively recruiting our qualified pilots, and attrition has been more than double the normal rate," Howell wrote in a letter to Great Lakes employees. "To further aggravate the situation, there are limited pilots looking for work that meet the new qualifications."

Howell said the board will inform the FAA of the effects the rule has on small communities and request an exemption.

Peranteaux said lawmakers may not have been fully aware of how the changes in flight hours would affect small communities and airlines.

"Fundamentally it needs to be dealt with on the legislative level," he said.

Board member Cindy Olson suggested that instead of re-stating that there's a problem, the letter should ask how the airport can assist Great Lakes to better the situation and provide other solutions.

"You know it is the industry, the industry is in a state that it's never been in before," she said.

Cancellation notices

Board member Dean Peranteaux said the lack of communication might be more of a problem than the canceled flights. If there's a delayed or canceled flight, he said the information is slow to reach passengers. By the time they find out, the remaining options --such as renting a vehicle, rebooking a flight or making other arrangements -- costs much more. If notifications were more immediate, a lot of trouble and frustration could be avoided, Peranteaux said. He added that he has experienced that scenario and suggested adding that concern to the letter.

"You'd think that in this age of technology with fairly instant communication, a system can be implemented that can address that fairly easily, inexpensively," he said. "That's truly the mismanagement portion and it's truly detrimental to the smaller communities."

Landing log

Griffin also provided the board with a report showing the types of aircrafts that land at the Riverton Regional Airport. Under the general aviation category were local aircrafts, in-transit aircraftspassing through the region, multi-engine aircrafts or twin engine aircrafts (which can include life flight and local aircrafts), small corporate jets, and life flight and search and rescue helicopters.

From January to October, roughly 3,100 of those aircrafts landed at the airport. Under the military category, only five military aircrafts had been counted, all in January 2013.

Around the state

The Wyoming Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division also presented its set of statistics for commercial air service for the state.

As of September, roughly 858,000 passengers had passed through Wyoming's airports, roughly 43,000, or 5.3 percent, more than the same time in the previous year.

Laramie Regional Airport saw the greatest increase. Riverton Regional Airport had a 3 percent growth while airports in Worland, Rock Springs, Gillette and Cheyenne showed no gain. The Jackson Hole Airport had the most passengers, with a 6 percent increase in enplanements.

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