Aaron Buck, Director at Yellowstone Regional Airport, Addresses the Challenges of Growth, and the Ongoing Pilot Shortages
Written by Caleb Nelson on May 11, 2022
Aaron Buck, Airport Director at Yellowstone Regional Airport, joined Mac Watson on Speak Your Piece (5/6/2022) to address the challenges of a growing airport, the ongoing pilot shortages, and the reduced number of flights out of Cody, Wyoming.
Regarding the cuts in flights and service, Buck says, “A lot of it has to do with pilot shortage due to several different factors.”
These factors include FFA mandates, the retirement age for pilots, COVID-19, and even early incentives to leave the industry.
As Buck explains, “A lot of pilots came from the military and are getting to the age of sixty-five, which, they’re forced to retire – an FFA mandate. And so, pilots are forced to retire, and pilots chose to retire because of COVID with early incentives to go out because the airlines were trying to get reduced costs,” Buck explains.
“Now that demand is back, there are no pilots to fly the planes,” Buck says.
Buck was named Airport Director back in March of 2021 and has a degree in Airport Management from Utah Valley University. “When I was a little kid my goal was to be a pilot,” Buck says. He decided against becoming a commercial pilot because of a rule requiring a cost-prohibitive number of training hours at that time.
However, Buck did go on to earn his wings, saying, “I have my private pilot’s license…it helps you understand the nuances of an airport and the things that need to be done – not everyone has that.”
Buck has worked in Wyoming for roughly eleven years, spending five years in Jackson as an airport operations agent, and another five years in Casper as the deputy director. Now, he’s here in Cody.
As Buck sees it, Yellowstone Regional Airport is “ready for growth.”
“We’re expanding, we’re building and developing our infrastructure so we can be ready for the growth we see in Cody specifically,” Buck says.
The real estate boom and the high number of new residents in Park County has impacted the airport. “We are developing our GA (general aviation) areas so that people can build a hanger here…we have a lot of people moving here to Cody who are bringing their aircraft with them,” Buck describes.
Yellowstone Regional Airport has been making news recently by announcing that flights (in and out of YRA) could be reduced by half. Again, Buck explains that the pilot shortage is a significant part of the problem, saying, “That’s the big reason we’re seeing reduced flights.”
Despite the lack of pilots, April and May have been good months for the Airport. Buck says, “Due to the airport closure in Jackson, our May flights are actually more flights than we’ve ever had in May before.”
“April was a really good month for us as well,” Buck adds.
Still, Delta has canceled its flights from Salt Lake to Cody. One of the only ways, commercially, to fly to Cody is through the Denver airport right now. “Delta was unable to have the pilots sufficient to come to Cody this summer,” Buck says.
From Denver, “We get four flights a day, four flights in four flights out day from United to Denver,” Buck goes on to say.
In July and August, that number will drop to three flights a day. Buck admits that it does seem odd to have fewer flights in summer months when tourism is expected to be high, saying, “that’s the same puzzlement I’m seeing here.”
The drop in available flights is due to crew shortages and pilot shortages as well as a lack of additional aircraft for those flights.
“United, American, all of them are suffering because of the pilot shortage,” Buck explains.
Buck has reached out to Alaska Airlines to try to establish a partnership for growth with them, explaining that Alaska Airlines is looking to offer a flight from Cody to Boise. Alaska Airlines said, according to Buck, they have “a two to three year plan to be in Cody.”