La Crosse Regional Airport says local airports need support amid nationwide pilot shortage

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — As airlines struggle to find pilots, flights are decreasing, leading to higher ticket costs. That’s why the La Crosse Regional Airport says it’s more important than ever for people to fly locally. 

The small airport is tucked away on French Island.

“I love being able to go in and out of here when I travel,” said traveler Sylvia Nielsen.

The airport is a local staple for travelers.

“Love it, absolutely love it,” said traveler Patti Holcumb. “Everybody is so friendly. It’s hometown, it’s absolutely incredible.”

But in a time of post-pandemic shortages, airports are no different.

“It’s something that we’re constantly adjusting to but it’s just part of the challenges of operating any business in 2022,” said airport director Ian Turner.

Turner says COVID-19 sped up pilot retirements. Without pilots, the number of flights are decreasing.

“It’s really unfortunate because people need to get out and be able to travel,” Holcumb said.

Previously, three flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul and Chicago flew out of La Crosse.

“And this year, we’re sitting at two flights a day to each of those destinations,” Turner said.

Plane tickets have also become more expensive because of the limited number of flights and increasing cost of fuel, Turner said.

“I’m very confident that what I see now is what we’ll see for the near future,” he said.

Despite the rising cost of travel, La Crosse residents say they’ll continue to use the airport.

“My kids live in Texas and I need to have that availability,” Holcumb said.

One way to make sure the airport stays in business is by flying local, Turner said.

“As long as you’re showing there is demand here at the La Crosse regional airport, the airlines will respond to that more than anything else,” Turner said.

During this shortage, every ticket counts.

The pilot shortage is expected to last three to five years, Turner said.

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