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Kathryn B. Creedy  

Regional Air Cargo

Not all airlines are hurting: regional cargo carriers busy

By Kathryn B. Creedy



While passenger airlines are being devastated by Coronavirus, regional airline cargo carriers are keeping busy with not only increased freight loads, but meeting the challenges of keeping crews and other workers safe in the midst of moving them around the country and dealing with all the different stay-at-home orders.

Empire Airlines and Bemidji Airlines have seen an uptick in traffic but Empire’s passenger subsidiary Ohana, which flies for Hawaiian Airlines, has been challenged.

“We are very fortunate in how we are structured,” said President Tim Komberec, who also chairs the USA’s Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association (RACCA) and its 50-plus members. “Our passenger operations are suffering, but we our freight operation to spread the risk.”

Regional freight carriers can tell something is up by the changing loads, according to Minnesota-based Bemidji Airlines Vice President & Director of Operations Tracie Walter. “Whenever there is a snowstorm that locks everyone down, there is a spike in deliveries from online orders.”

But, this Coronavirus lock down is different. “In the beginning it was like a snowstorm. Everyone was bored so they went shopping online,” she told Resilient Aviation. “Now it is staples. One of my pilots noted he has carried toilet paper on every trip. Now we are seeing food and necessities, things needed to run a household, as well as medical supplies for our local hospital.”

Making our own disinfectant

One of Bemidji’s greatest challenges was quelling employee fear. “They asked if we should even be touching the boxes,” said Walter, who noted the company is not just a Part 135 operator but an FBO with much less traffic and fuel sales, as well as a Part 139 airport. “We made our own disinfectant with isopropyl alcohol, water and paper towels and made sure everyone had them. And I told them about 9/11.

“We were still here after 9/11,” she said. “In fact, we were the first ones flying after the grounding was lifted. We continued to fly and we are continuing to fly. Now, we have been thrown a huge curve ball, but when we emerge we will be a stronger company.”

Komberec reported its first challenge was employee concern about traveling by air as they are deployed around Empire’s 18-state system. He explained it was worked out as governments began to understand the essential nature of their work. Komberec said the FAA guidelines for flight crews and other aviation workers such as aviation maintenance technicians working at Empire’s MRO business have been working very well.

Bemidji and Empire, along with many other RACCA members, connect Fed Ex, DHL and UPS hubs to small communities. Not surprisingly, much of the work since the pandemic spread around the nation has been delivering much-needed medical supplies to front-line workers in small communities.

“In addition to their health concerns, all the airline capacity cuts were making it difficult to position crews,” he said. “We have reverted to driving in some cases although those that can’t drive report having their own private commercial jet. They drive their own car or a rental which may require an extra day of travel, but it has worked out well. They are paying attention and doing their jobs and are really trying to make it work.”

As with everyone else, Empire’s greatest challenge was ensuring worker safety and making sure it had to supplies to protect them.

“About 75% of our workforce is working from home and that is working well but my biggest worry is whether I’ll be able to get them back in the office once this is all over,” he said. “Flight dispatch, aviation maintenance and field work have been really good about coming to work. We are doing well tracking our employees and the few that have been exposed have self quarantined. Because we serve so many states, we have a big exposure and our employees are fortunate because they are still getting pay checks because of the work we have.”

“No one has tested positive at Bemidi,” said Walter, “and that’s because there are no tests.” She indicated staff split up into teams reporting to work on Monday-Wednesday and Thursday-Saturday schedules which ensures all departments of covered.

100% pilot staffing achieved

Komberec noted a silver lining to the pandemic, saying it has achieved 100% pilot staffing for the first time in years

“We are getting hundreds of resumes, reflecting the fact that a few regionals have gone out of business recently,” he said. “We are also getting resumes from mainline pilots who say they are done with the rat race. They see freight as a providing a good quality of life where they can be home every day, so we hope they will be permanent additions to our roster. I don’t think we know the answer as to whether those coming from the mainline carriers will be permanent, but I think it will be a mixed bag when this all ends.”



Empire-Bemidji Empire Airlines Bemidji Aviation




Kathryn B. Creedy Kathryn Creedy is an international award-winning business Journalist and aviation analyst. She is also an author, blogger and travel writer. Her byline has appeared in CNN Travel, The Points Guy, BBC Capital, Los Angeles Times, Forbes Online, The Washington Post, Flyer Talk, Business Traveler, Business Travel Executive, Afar, Flight Global, Centre for Aviation, Aviation Week & Space Technology, Low Fare & Regional Airlines, Inflight, Business Airports International, Airports, Centerlines, Regional Gateway, Runway Girl Network.

In 2018, she was cited for the Sapphire Pegasus Business Aviation Award for her work as a business aviation writer and was previously lauded for her work in creating the weekly newsletter Commuter/Regional Airline News by the Aviation/Space Writers Association.

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BlueSky Business Aviation News | 23rd April 2020 | Issue #554



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