A nationwide pilot shortage is leaving its mark on the Quad-City International Airport, the airport's aviation director said Tuesday.
As Bruce Carter announced a 6 percent passenger decline for February, he said part of the decrease is due to the fact that with fewer pilots, the industry is switching to larger planes and fewer flights.
The airlines are "getting rid of the 50-seat regional jets and replacing them with 70 seats (aircraft)," he told the Rock Island County Metropolitan Airport Authority.
According to Carter, United and Delta have reduced their weekend flight schedules at the airport. Fewer flights, he said "saves a crew from having to fly.
The switch has not had much of an impact on the total capacity available at the Moline airport. ''But the customer doesn't have as many choices," he said.
Cathie Rochau, the airport's marketing representative, said United and Delta have a combined total of 24 flights a day — departures and arrivals. But the weekend schedule ahead now has the total flights down to 17 on Saturdays and 21 on Sundays.
The airport's statistics show it had 25,910 passengers last month, down from 27,457 a year ago. The declines by carrier were Allegiant, down 6 percent; Delta Airlines, down 12 percent; and United Express, down 5 percent. American Eagle/Envoy's passenger enplanements saw no change.
Total passengers, enplanements and deplanements combined, were 50,275 in February. That was a 5 percent decline from 53,125 total passengers a year earlier. Year to date, total passengers are down 6 percent to 102,875 from 109,285 at this point last year.
Carter said part of the pilot shortage issue is the changing qualifications for pilots, including increased hours of flying to get licensed and FAA-mandated retirement age of 65.
According to an Aviation Week report, the regional carriers are losing pilots as they move up to the major airlines and fill their large ranks of retirements. In addition, the low beginning salaries at the regionals are failing to fill up the new pilot training classes.
"Some airports are losing all their air service if they can't support 70 seats," Carter said. "We're able to support 70 seat aircraft."
Looking ahead, Carter said March is shaping up to be a strong month, in part, due to spring break travelers.
He and Rochau conducted a parking lot study Monday and counted 1,600 cars. Of those, he said 74 percent were from Iowa, which was up from 69 percent last year. "We saw big increases from Johnson and Linn counties," he added.