I'm an airline pilot, or to be more specific, a regional airline pilot. The term "regional" is used a little more loosely now than it was when the first regional airlines were created. Regional airlines were known by most as those that flew turboprop aircraft into smaller cities. In fact, the term "puddle jumpers" was, and still is used to describe these airplanes. "Regional" was an accurate term because that's where they flew; in specific regions. These airlines can provide their own brand of air service, but often they operate as contractors for the major airlines. You may have purchased a ticket through a major airline, but the plane you end up on may be operated by a regional. These planes are all painted just like the major airline's aircraft providing a so called "seamless" transition.
Regional airline pilot more accurately described my job a few years ago when I was a first officer on the Saab 340. The "Mighty" Saab, or Saab-O-Matic, as we affectionately called it, held 34 passengers. We flew to smaller cities throughout the Midwest, jumping over puddles. Turboprop aircraft like the Saab are still around, but most have been pushed aside for the regional jet. These planes hold more passengers and have an increased range.
I now work for another airline and it is still considered a regional. The aircraft we fly don't limit us to a specific region, and I'll find myself all over the country in a span of four days. The picture above represents some of the flying I’ll do throughout next month. Over the past decade, major airlines have increased the amount of flying that their regional partners do. This is due to the lower costs that regionals are able to operate at as well as the decreased passenger loads after 9/11 and the recession. But recently due to the uptick in passenger loads, the majors have begun to reign in flying that had been parted out to the regionals.
In the last few months, the three or four major airlines in the U.S. have started ordering new aircraft and have begun the process of hiring pilots. Whether or not you believe there is a pilot shortage looming on the horizon, the Majors are going to need pilots to replace thousands of retirements over the coming years. Hopefully in the next few years the map above will indicate flying I do not just over here in the region of the North America, but all over the world as I continue my career as a major airline pilot!
Photo Courtesy Great Circle Mapper