Many travelers in North Central Washington are frustrated with the recent reduction to only one daily flight to and from Seattle at Pangborn Memorial Airport in East Wenatchee.

Alaska Airlines subsidiary, Horizon Air, reduced the number of flights in and out of Pangborn from two to one on September 7, and are the only passenger carrier that currently serves the airport.

Jack Penning, Managing Partner with Volaire Aviation Consulting, says the local reduction in service is part of a nationwide trend that’s happening due to a lack of pilots.

“What we have is a massive pilot shortage across the industry and Wenatchee is not alone in their plight. Walla Walla and Yakima are also both down to one departing flight per day, and Alaska (Airlines) has cut 70 departures a day out of Seattle. In fact, there are about 330 regional jets just sitting in the desert right now, waiting for pilots to fly them.”

Prior to the pandemic, there were four daily departures on Alaska Airlines serving Seattle out of Pangborn that were all consistently running close to capacity. And even then, with quadruple the number of flights available, 83 percent of people needing to fly had to use a different originating airport to reach their eventual destinations.

Penning says the sizeable decline in fully-trained and qualified pilots in the commercial industry is largely due to a rapid rate of advanced attrition during the pandemic.

“A lot of pilots chose to take an early retirement during the pandemic. Many of them chose different careers and they’re not coming back. And there simply isn’t the training infrastructure in this country or any country to get enough pilots to backfill what we lost. It’s going to take years for the airlines to hire enough pilots.”

Penning adds there are other factors at work in the current pilots shortage, including increased competition for wages and incentives, as well as carrier turnover and market volatility.

He predicts Pangborn might see a return to two daily departures as soon as sometime late next year but cautions Horizon, like other carriers, must prioritize their service routes based on passenger demand and revenue potential.

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