Lack of pilots: an obstacle to the return of commercial service at the airport | New

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Montoursville, Pa. — The biggest obstacle to returning commercial service to Williamsport Regional Airport is a lack of pilots entering the aviation industry, according to airport executive director Richard Howell.

Howell, in statements during and after a discussion convened Monday for a study on behalf of the Pennsylvania Transportation Advisory Committee, said the airport had put in place a $1.7 million package for airlines can start their services.

All five major airlines saw the proposal, but none seized the opportunity. Howell believes this is due to the limited ability to recruit pilots and the cost of jet fuel, he said.

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“The crux of the problem right now is the availability of pilots to operate the planes,” Howell said. “Fuel pricing is also an issue for the smaller 50-seat aircraft we are targeting in this market.”

Howell said airlines are currently “parking” planes “because they don’t have anyone to fly them.”

Part of the problem is the associated cost of entering the field, which is “prohibitively expensive”, he added.

However, representatives from Penn College’s aviation program said when discussing the TAC that they have seen consistent enrollment.

Airlines have shown interest in restoring service to the area, Howell said, but “they’ve been open saying, ‘We don’t know when we’ll be able to do that.'”

These comments came after American Airlines has ended service to three cities– Ithaca and Islip, New York and Toledo, Ohio – due to pilot shortages.

Lycoming County Commissioner Richard Mirabito said during the discussion that it was time to see more commitment from the state to provide service to regional airports.

“We’re the entrance to the PA Wilds, but we can’t get people here by air,” Mirabito said. “How do we get these airlines – and what pressure are we exerting as a state – to serve these small rural airports?”

Frank Pellegrino, chairman of the Williamsport Municipal Airport Authority, said the airport could fill planes.

“We can fill it,” Pellegrino said. “All we need is one chance.”

The TAC is currently in the midst of a series of listening sessions across the state to gauge aviation professionals’ ideas about the study they are conducting. The study is expected to be published early next year.

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