ViaAir temporarily cancelling Austin flights amid pilot shortage

    Citing a pilot shortage, ViaAir will for the next seven weeks cease its direct, nonstop service between Baton Rouge and Austin.

    The pause means all flights to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport—which depart from Baton Rouge on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays at 1:38 p.m.—are canceled until May 23, at which point the normal schedule will resume.

    News of the cancellations comes without any advertisement from ViaAir. However, tickets for flights before May 23 are no longer being sold, and previously purchased tickets have been refunded.

    Flights have been on hold since last week, says Don Bowman, the airline’s director of planning and business development, due to the effects of a national pilot shortage that has trickled down to smaller carriers like ViaAir.

    “It’s best for us to pull down for a month or two so that we have time to train pilots,” Bowman says, noting they’re looking to hire another four pilots to staff the flights scheduled between May and June, plus an additional four after June.

    He says ViaAir is about halfway through its hiring target, with some recent hires currently going through training.

    Since joining the Baton Rouge market in September, the regional carrier has had some problems with its nonstop direct flight services.

    About a month ago, the airline cancelled four Baton Rouge flights to Austin over a three-week period, spurring irritation among passengers who said they weren’t notified ahead of time. The spate of cancellations were among 20 total that occurred out of the 116 BTR-AUS flights scheduled since Sept. 20.

    The break in service also comes not long after Via cut back on its regular flights to Orlando amid soft demand. While the temporary cancellation of Austin flights isn’t tied to ticket sales, Bowman says passenger demand for the service is middling compared to other markets.

    Bowman says the best way to ensure the Austin service is successful in the future is to come out ahead of potential issues by cancelling nearly two months’ worth of flights, refunding previously purchased tickets and hiring enough pilots in advance.

    “We’re trying to take a more proactive, consumer-friendly way of notifying passengers now versus having last-minute changes,” he says. “We feel it’s better customer service to tell them upfront.”

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