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CHO says bye to ORD, for now

awrabel@dailyprogress.com (434) 978-7261

In 2011 it was C-H-O-C-A-G-O. Now, it’s C-H-O-C-A-G-N-O.

Passengers flying out of Charlottesville Albemarle Airport will soon have only four non-stop destination options when United Airlines ends flights between Charlottesville and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport this summer, airport officials said. The move comes after American Airlines stopped flights between the two destinations in November 2020 and now disconnects the airport from the busy Midwest airline hub.

Passengers who choose to fly out of CHO will still be able to fly to major hubs in the eastern part of the country, including Charlotte, Atlanta, New York–LaGuardia and Washington–Dulles.

CHO Deputy Executive Director Jason Burch said airport staff want to work with the airlines and demonstrate demand for Chicago flights.

“Outside of COVID, outside of the pilot shortage and all the other challenges, we’re looking to see if we can put together a strong case as to why we’d like to see that service back,” he said.

The American service to O’Hare started in 2011, after the airport offered the airline more than $700,000 in incentives. United service to O’Hare started in 2017.

But Chicago service is unlikely to return in the near future, as regional airlines like SkyWest Airlines, which operated United Express flights between Charlottesville and Chicago, continue to pull back regional routes amid a pilot shortage.

During a conference call last month, SkyWest CEO Chip Childs said 6,000 early retirements taken by pilots at major airlines during COVID and the “steep demand recovery” has resulted in a new, much higher demand for experienced SkyWest pilots, particularly captains.

“This demand has created an imbalance of pilots here and across the regional industry,” he said. “Of course, pilot attrition was anticipated and planned for in our models and strategies. However, the rapid increase in captain attrition was not.”

Childs said the “pipeline for new pilots is strong,” but the timing “creates an imbalance and production constraint for the next year or so.”

“To help correct this imbalance, we’re working with our major partners to notably reduce schedules for the foreseeable future and have worked with our pilot group to implement upgrade and retention incentives,” he said.

Weeks after the call, The Points Guy, a travel website, first reported that United was dropping 17 domestic routes — all operated by regional carriers — from its route map including the flights between Charlottesville and Chicago.

United representatives did not respond to a request for comment about the cut, but told other media outlets that it “makes regular adjustments to its schedule in response to market demand and staffing resources to ensure we can best serve our customers.”

On Thursday, SkyWest filed a required notice that it will terminate air service in 29 airports, including Shenandoah Valley Airport, that it covers under Essential Air Service program contracts, on or before June 10.

EAS is a federal government program that subsidizes commuter and certificated air carriers to serve communities that otherwise would not receive any scheduled air service. Carriers bid on contracts which are awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“Although SkyWest Airlines, Inc. would prefer to continue providing scheduled air service to these cities, the pilot staffing challenges across the airline industry preclude us from doing so,” the company said in the filing.

According to documents, SkyWest’s contract for the Shenandoah airport was supposed to end March 31, 2023. SHD is currently the only EAS eligible community in the state.

“It is important our community works together to continue to utilize the current SkyWest Airlines [doing business as] United Express service so SHD remains attractive to any new carrier,” the airport’s website says.

Richmond International Airport still has non-stop flights to Chicago on American, United and Southwest Airlines.

Burch with CHO said the airport anticipates United adding an additional flight to Dulles this summer and American adding another flight to Charlotte. As much as the airport staff want to regain service that the airport has lost, they’re also talking to airlines about adding service to new destinations in the future, he said.

“What we don’t want to do is jump on a bandwagon for an airline going to a market that’s just a questionable thing. and then our community doesn’t respond to it,” he said.

Places in Florida are popular destinations for Charlottesville airport travelers, but an Allegiant Air service to Orlando ended abruptly in 2014, fewer than 100 days after Allegiant’s first flight here from the Sunshine state.

“We’re looking at Chicago, but you know, we’re also looking at some of the markets that we can connect to that our community seems to want to go to,” Burch said.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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