Small airports continue to lose regional service amid U.S. pilot shortage

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At the Toledo Express Airport on a recent Friday, some travelers were surprised to learn that "TOL" was losing its daily flights to Chicago.

"It's going to be a great loss, it's just more convenient," one traveler told Fox Business.

In September, American Airlines will end its service in Toledo and other communities like Dubuque, Iowa, Islip, New York, and Ithaca, New York. When the news was announced, the airline claimed a pilot shortage stood in the way of it continuing those routes.

In June, American Airlines announced it would end its daily service in Toledo, Ohio and three other cities. (Stephen Goin/Fox News Digital / Fox News)

"We want to fly but can't due to the lack of regional pilots," the airline said in a statement. "We’re extremely grateful for the care and service our team members provided to our customers in Islip, Ithaca, and Toledo, and are working closely with them during this time."

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Across the country, similar scenes are playing out in communities that rely on regional airline service.

In a June study, the Regional Airline Association (RAA) reported that 188 communities had lost at least 25% of their airline service from Q1 2019 to Q2 2022, what’s more, 106 communities lost over 25% of their airline service in the same time period.

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We want to fly but can’t due to the lack of regional pilots… we’re extremely grateful for the care and service our team members provided to our customers in Islip, Ithaca, and Toledo, and are working closely with them during this time. – American Airlines Statement

It comes as the U.S. airline industry struggles to hire staff, all while travel demand is soaring.

Yet, the nation’s pilot shortage is nothing new. A number of pilots accepted contract buyouts or opted to retire early amid the COVID-19 pandemic when demand was low. Now, every major carrier has cut flight schedules to accommodate the shortage.

All summer, major carriers have cut their flight schedules to accommodate a growing pilot shortage.  (Stephen Goin/Fox News Digital / Fox News)

To meet demand, the industry may need to hire 14,500 new pilots every year, through 2030, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As regional airports lose service, some travelers tell Fox Business they will have to rethink how they travel. 

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The Toledo Airport (TOL) lost 46% of its service amid the pandemic, according to the Regional Airline Association. (Stephen Goin/Fox News Digital / Fox News)

"We’ll just have to reroute and replan," said Kevin Gutierrez, a traveler at the Toledo Express Airport who was visiting family in the area. "This might limit how often we’re able to visit, if we want to visit twice a year maybe we can only visit once because of the expense to get here another way."

Travelers who would’ve normally departed from Toledo, will now need to drive an hour to the closest major airport in Detroit. 

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