U.S. commuter-airline operator Southern Airways now counts the world’s biggest regional-airline holding company, SkyWest, among its five largest shareholders.
SkyWest has taken what Southern Airways CEO Stan Little described to AIN as a “small minority investment, but still [a] substantial” strategic stake in the Pompano Beach, Florida-based company. St. George, Utah-based SkyWest has done so to open a career pathway for the pilots Southern Airways hires for its cadet training program.
Under the “mutually supportive” program, Southern Airways will provide cadets with 1,200 hours of flying second-in-command on the 35 Cessna Caravans and Grand Caravans operated by its commuter carriers—Southern Airways Express and recently acquired Mokulele Airlines—and then 600 hours more as pilot-in-command, said Little. After accumulating 1,800 hours of experience, all of it on scheduled, two-pilot passenger services, each pilot cadet will transfer to SkyWest Airlines to become a first officer on regional jets.
Southern Airways will benefit from the program through its ability to offer a means for cadets to move quickly from the 250 hours of experience they formerly needed to qualify as air transport pilots in the U.S. to the 1,500 hours of piloting time the FAA now requires, said Little. Southern Airways gives each pilot 100 hours a month of flight time, offering an alternative to flying as instructors for as long as four years to build experience to 1,500 hours.
The program allows pilots to graduate to SkyWest after only 18 months. SkyWest will benefit both from a guaranteed flow of qualified pilots from Southern Airways and from the fact that all their experience will involve two-crew commercial aircraft.
“We move pilots through the pipeline faster and in a better way as well,” said Little. “They are flying next to a seasoned captain, they’re learning cockpit resource management, they’re working as a team.”
Southern Airways actually began its cadet program 18 months ago, after two years of suffering flight completion rates “in the 80s… solely due to a lack of pilots,” said Little. The program fed pilots to Mesa Airlines, and cadets can still transfer to Mesa rather than SkyWest if they wish. “We decided, instead of going out and recruiting immediately people who were capable of being pilot in command, let’s take a longer-term view and hire people as second in command.” Since then, said Little, Southern Airways hasn’t canceled a single flight for lack of a pilot.