The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) has called on the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to reject SkyWest Charter's application for commuter air carrier authority, claiming its business plan is "unsound" and "contrary to the public interest".

In a July 29 regulatory filing, ALPA claims that SkyWest Airlines (OO, Salt Lake City) plans to shift much of its Essential Air Services (EAS) work from its current scheduled FAR Part 121 operation to the wholly-owned charter affiliate, SkyWest Charter, under FAR Part 135 and use lesser-qualified first officers in the process. Unless the DOT approves the application to shift the work to SkyWest Charter, SkyWest Airline plans to terminate service to at least 18 EAS communities, it alleged.

The shift could only happen if the DOT awards federal money under the Alternate Essential Air Service pilot programme to smaller communities, meaning the DOT would effectively "degrade the level of air safety for small communities by granting federal funds to permit a dominant and profitable scheduled airline to shift its work to a wholly-owned charter subsidiary and use lesser-qualified first officers in the process".

ALPA said, "the main reason for this application appears to be SkyWest's presumed captain 'imbalance' problem, which will be 'mitigated' next year during the 'back half of 2023'. Certificate authority, however, is forever: Save for dormancy, domestic certificates do not expire. A near-permanent government-issued certificate is an inappropriate response to a temporary corporate-created issue," the union stated.

However, in a 2Q 2022 earnings call on July 28, SkyWest Airlines President and Chief Executive Officer Chip Childs said SkyWest Charter would adhere "to the same exceptionally high standards of safety and service associated with the SkyWest name".

He expects the on-demand charter operations to commence in the fourth quarter of 2022. Management will continue to work with the DOT on the commuter airline authorisation.

"We have been more than surprised at the interest in our charter operation since we've had some more development of it. We are surprised about pilots' interest in it. We are surprised about community interest in it. And we're surprised also that there are a lot of parties that want this thing to work, and we're excited about it now," Childs said. "It certainly is a great opportunity for us to capitalise on some assets and some expertise that we have."

Chief Commercial Officer Wade Steel concurred the airline would commence on-demand charters "shortly". "We're still working through the exact timing. So I don't know if I necessarily want to give an exact timeframe. But I don't think it'll drag on too long. We believe we will start flying on-demand charters, definitely sometime during this year."

According to its application to the DOT, SkyWest Charter plans to debut in October 2022 serving 25 under-served US routes with eighteen CRJ200s. Childs said the type is a great fit for the charter operation. "It doesn't mean we're going to move all the 200s over. But it certainly gives us an opportunity to be flexible and prioritise the dual class fleet at SkyWest [Airlines]," he said.

"I think that fleet mix and strategies are going to be very dynamic over the next couple of years," he added, pointing out that demand for regional travel was growing. "The priority is still going to be making sure that SkyWest Airlines is maximising their capacity and doing what we can in these communities that can withstand an economically supportive 50-seat CRJ, as we continue to work through the crew imbalance issue," he concluded.