Lorelei Day, Communications Coordinator
Effective Oct. 1, United Airlines will no longer be providing services out of San Angelo. The current worldwide pilot shortage, coupled with major industry occurrences, is forcing regional carriers to reduce service in smaller markets.
The San Angelo to Houston route has not met market expectations for passenger load factors. Upcoming ticket sales through September are not projected to be profitable enough for SkyWest Airlines, the operating company of United Express Airlines in San Angelo. SkyWest representatives said they have had to withdraw services from several airports of our size around the nation, including many in Texas.
“We thought we’d have a much better turnout for our Houston market,” Airport Director Jeremy Valgardson said. “The challenge was being right in the middle of a pandemic – it’s hard to predict those numbers. So, we were sitting at about 60% load factors. Our level of profitability needed to be in the 70 to 80% range and we just didn’t quite get there.”
With international travel in decline, major airline carriers have picked up numerous domestic routes that have been awarded grants which guarantee revenue from the federal government. One of these grants was the Small Community Air Services Development Grant.
“They just awarded the grants in July; unfortunately, we did not receive that grant,” Valgardson said. “It was a $1 million subsidy that we could have offered to the airlines to keep them here. Unfortunately, I don’t think that would have solved the problem. The real underlying problem is the pilot shortage.”
The SkyWest pilots who serviced the San Angelo to Houston routes will be reallocated to these new domestic routes. Moreover, a rise in early retirement in 2020 caused these major airlines to hire a significant number of pilots from the regional carriers, leaving smaller communities across the country underserved.
The City of San Angelo is confident in the future possibilities of San Angelo Regional Airport – Mathis Field and will continue to pursue new opportunities on behalf of the citizens of this community.
American Airlines services are still in operation at San Angelo Regional Airport and local routes have not been affected by the worldwide pilot shortage.