Regional airport prices continue to soar as more flights are grounded

CWA director says the airport’s flight costs average around $71 higher than the national average
Published: May. 30, 2023 at 3:44 PM CDT
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MOSINEE, Wis. (WSAW) - When planning a summer vacation, cost is always an important factor. A new study from ‘Finance Buzz’ shows Central Wisconsin Airport was ranked the 19th most expensive regional airport in 2022.

CWA Director Brian Grefe said the pilot shortage is a large factor impacting ticket prices. Smaller airports like CWA are taking the biggest hit. Grefe said all their flights are full and as the number of passengers goes, up so do the prices.

Grefe said the airport’s flight costs average around $71 higher than the national average.

“Demand for air travel is more than we have the capacity right now and that is of course due to the pilot shortage,” said Grefe.

Airports across the nation are struggling to have enough pilots. It’s taking an even bigger hit on smaller regional airports.

“Because we’re served exclusively by regional jets which are 76 seats or smaller, you don’t have the economies of scale that you would have in 150, 200, 250 seat aircraft where you see those slightly better prices,” Grefe added.

Larger airports also have an advantage in maintaining pilots. Grefe said pilots often start at a regional airline and move up to a larger airport to increase their salary. It brings a challenge to those smaller airports because it leaves the pilot pool decimated.

Last month, Senator Tammy Baldwin introduced a bill to expand flight education for pilots in hopes to combat the shortage. Grefe said advocacy groups are also working to reduce barriers to entering the career.

In the meantime, CWA is working on other plans to lower costs like increasing the size of the aircraft.

“They reduced a number of flights from three to two, just this year, but they upgraded to a 76-seat aircraft from a 50-seat aircraft so then that impacted the total number of seats flying where it was about the same, in fact, there’s two more than there were with three flights,” said Grefe.

The airport is also looking at more affordable flight service options like Allegiant, Avello, Breeze, Frontier, and Sun Country.

“We’re looking for point-to-point, low-cost service. We’re looking to Orlando, Fort Meyers, and or Phoenix,” Grefe continued.

American and Delta are legacy carriers. They offer more destinations, but they tend to be more expensive.

“Usually the legacy carriers don’t like that low-cost service coming in because it directly competes with their business. Since the pilot shortage, we haven’t seen that.”

Grefe said with few flights available it hasn’t had as much of an impact. They hope to announce this summer which low-cost company will fly in and out of the airport and have them at CWA this year.

As for summer flights, Grefe’s advice to bring the cost down is to book at least a month to a month and a half in advance.