SQUAW VALLEY, CALIFORNIA — The U.S. regional aviation industry currently has more than 2,000 aircraft that fly 10,000 flights a day, according to research by French manufacturer ATR.

More than 400 regional routes have been canceled since 2006 as carriers move to larger jets, leaving more and more smaller and medium-sized communities with no air service.

In a panel here at the 21st Annual International Aviation Forecast Summit, two airline CEOs discussed “The Next Generation of Regional Air Service” at the event hosted by Denver-based Boyd Group International.

Matt Maguire is the CEO OneJet, a Louisville, Kentucky-based operator that uses seven-seat, Beechjet 400s to connect small and medium size markets. It operates out of commercial airports, giving passengers access to TSA PreCheck, healthy snacks, national newspapers and free WiFi on all of its flights.

City-pairs currently operated by OneJet include: Pittsburgh to Indianapolis, Hartford, Milwaukee and Cincinnati; Louisville-Kansas City; and Louisville-Raleigh-Durham.

OneJet has had success out of Pittsburgh, said Maguire. “We tend to look at regional markets that range from 300 to 700 nautical miles and 15 to 80 [Passengers Daily Each Way], and we’re pleased with what we’ve seen so far,” he said. “We see 900 city-pair markets in the U.S., which is a $4 billion market, so we see a lot of upside. But we don’t do markets with existing non-stop service.”

“OneJet is the only non-stop service in the markets we serve, and that’s done at convenient times,” said Maguire. “We see a huge opportunity in the East Coast,” he said. “But if you live on the West Coast, have a 15 to 80 PDEW and have no non-stop service, I’d be happy to talk with you.”

Trey Fayard is the CEO of New Orleans-based GLO Airlines, which flies in the Gulf and Mid-South regions. GLO, founded in 2013, now offers non-stop services from its home base in New Orleans to Shreveport, Louisiana, Little Rock, Arkansas, Memphis, Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida and Huntsville, Alabama.

GLO Airlines operates a small fleet of SAAB 340 aircraft. (Credits: Carlos Barcelo)
GLO Airlines operates a small fleet of SAAB 340 aircraft. (Credits: Carlos Barcelo)

We fly 30-seat Saab 340Bs under Part 135. We offer passengers nice seat pitch and focus on routes in the 500-600 nm range,” said Fayard. “We have three aircraft and a fourth one on the way,” he said. “Our markets work well because of the spacing and the service needs in the South, so you won’t see us in California anytime soon. We identified 64 markets. We started with number one and we’ll go from there.”

Both carriers use a combination of word-of-mouth and local partnerships to get the word out about their service. “We do also take advantage of print and some TV ads, along with some social media. But our best tool is repeat customers and their word of mouth is invaluable,” said GLO’s Fayard. “At the end of the day, talking directly to our customers is what really works. The goal is to get them on your plane.”

OneJet is in GDS systems, so is searchable, said Maguire. “The question is how do you build credibility quickly? Why get on a seven-seat jet on a brand they’ve never heard of?” he asked. “We have very strong partnerships in the communities where we are. People are invested in making this work. The mindset is that air service is a priority.”

Both were also happy with their aircraft types. “We really like ATRs, but we’re not there yet,” said Fayard. “With the Saab, we have the advantage of low fuel prices.  If you put a jet on my markets, the jet would have a 10-minute [speed] advantage at best.”

OneJet will stick with its seven-seat light jets, said Maguire. “Passengers love the product and compare it to first class on a regional jet. If we put a 50-seat aircraft on our 40 PDEW markets, it would dilute the market,” he stated. “What we do is capture premium passengers, but we don’t disrupt airlines like United, Delta and American.”

Like most smaller carriers these days, OneJet and GLO have been affected by the pilot shortage that many blame on new training requirements that came out of the Colgan Air crash in February 2009.

“Honestly, everyone understands the difference between Part 121 and Part 135. We know they come to us, cycle through and go to places like SkyWest Airlines,” said Fayard. “We fly seven days a week and we go for older pilots who are happy to live in the area.”

“OneJet knows it can’t compete with salary, so it sells its quality of life with pilots,” said Maguire. “They can work two shifts Monday through Friday. We tend to attract pilots 55 and older because $70,000 a year is good pay for a part-time captain,” he said. “We can’t offer them a career, so pilots do move on, but our pipeline is good.”