Regions grounded again

Saturday, March 10, 2007
A security guard walked through the empty airport Friday after RegionsAir Inc. shut down all flights in and out of Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. (Diane L. Wilson)

Once again, Southeast Missouri has no air service. As of 4:36 p.m. Thursday, RegionsAir grounded its entire fleet of aircraft, citing an FAA order to do so for the second time in seven days.

Additionally, three full-time and six part-time employees who work as AmericanConnection agents for the airline in Cape Girar?deau were told by the airline not to come to work pending further notice. Management employees, including the airport's station manager working in Marion, Ill., have been furloughed until Tuesday.

An FAA spokeswoman, Laura Brown, said the federal agency has a signed consent from the airline to suspend operations.

RegionsAir director of marketing Nathan Vallier said the problem resulted from the same issue that forced the airline to ground its fleet last Saturday. The problem is inadequate training for line check airmen. Line check airmen are the certified inspectors who fly alongside a pilot during certification and evaluate the pilot's competence.

Vallier said he has no idea when operations will resume and is still in the dark about why the most recent shutdown occurred.

Only small commuter planes can be seen through the window of the empty airport restaurant after RegionsAir Inc. shut down indefinitely all flights in and out of Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. (Diane L. Wilson)

"I can tell you that the FAA conducted no line check on our operations during last week. They did not send inspectors for pilots, so what are they basing this on? You'd have to ask them," he said.

Brown said while the previous problem was with RegionsAir's manual, later in the week the agency discovered actual airmen were unqualified, so the airline was shut down a second time.

"We determined that the line check airmen, the pilots who instruct and check out other pilots, were not properly trained themselves," Brown said. She declined to elaborate.

The grounding order is for 120 days but could be shorter if Regions?Air rectifies the problem, Brown said.

Passengers with tickets out of Cape Girar?deau are being provided ground transportation or refunds.

RegionsAir Inc. shut down all flights in and out of Cape Girardeau Regional Airport indefinitely. On Friday the employees were still waiting for the official word if they still would have their jobs. (Diane L. Wilson)

Rumors early in the day had all employees terminated and the company ending all business, but later employees were told the airline would soon be back up and running but not to come to work until further notice.

"It's frustrating. I mean we're all big boys and girls here. There's no need to be secretive. We all know what's happening. We know trouble [has] been going on there for a while now," said airport ad?min?istrative coordinator Angela Ahrens, who is not a RegionsAir employee.

Airport manager Bruce Loy was also unable to get satisfactory information from the airline.

"That's what's more disappointing," he said. "You do something like this and don't give any information about it. It's so unfair to the people who are passengers."

Loy also said airport leaders had wondered whether the airline would stop service once it was not selected by the Department of Transportation for a new contract under its Essential Air Service Program.

"I had concerns of this happening. We certainly hoped that once they found out they wouldn't get the order that they would do the honorable thing and keep providing service," Loy said.

Vallier denied the move has anything to do with the Department of Transportation's Friday contract award to Big Sky Airlines to provide service to Cincinnati. He said the airline is committed to putting planes back in the air as soon as possible but needs FAA guidance on how many pilots and line check airmen it must retrain.

He called the company's financial status "solvent."

Craig Mills, a local agent for the airline, said he does not know whether he is losing his job. He plans to reapply for his current job with Big Sky Airlines.

"That would obviously be the thing to do. It'll be less disruptive that way if we can make the transition to the new carrier," he said.

Big Sky Airlines president Fred deLeeuw said his company's policy is to hire staff from the outgoing carrier whenever possible.

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