American Airlines says it will try a third daily Charlotte-Erie flight, one that arrives in Charlotte at 8:31 p.m. and offers access to late night flights to major cities.
The flights aboard 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145s, will be operated by Piedmont Airlines. Despite a shortage of regional jet pilots, “We’re working on our network and we try things,” an American spokeswoman said.
American currently has about 600 daily Charlotte departures to about 170 destinations. Hub economics mean that any arriving flight enables connections to multiple destinations. The 8:31 p.m. arrival from Erie offers late night departures to cities such as Chicago, Dallas, Miami, and New York, all after 9:55 p.m.
Because of the pilot shortage, medium sized cities such as Dubuque, Iowa; Toledo, Ohio and Williamsport, Pa. have lost all mainline service, although Avelo Airlines recently set up in Dubuque. Erie has hung on with American, although it lost Delta and United service during the pandemic.
Last month, United ended Chicago-Erie service, which had operated four times a day, while Delta ended Detroit-Erie service in June 2020. United had also tried Dulles-Erie, which started in December 2020 but ended in March 2022.
Pre-pandemic, Erie International Airport had about 107,000 annual enplanements, said Derek Martin, the airport’s executive director. According to the Erie Times-News, enplanements reached 187,000 in 2005, although the number shrank to 62,000 in 2022. Like most airport directors, Martin said he is negotiating with airlines for service: Avelo and Breeze could be possibilities.
The new Charlotte flight will initially operate four days a week. Martin said it is needed to provide Erie business travelers with more options for evening travel. Existing departs Erie at 6:20 a.m. and 1:45 p.m., arriving approximately two hours later. The new flight will depart Erie at 6:40 p.m.
When American predecessor US Airways had a Pittsburgh hub. Erie had Boeing 737 flights to Pittsburgh and other cities. When US Airways replaced the 737s with smaller aircraft, Erie funeral directors and politicians complained to the airline because coffins containing human remains then had be trucked in and out.
Erie has insurance and manufacturing businesses and four universities. Located on Lake Erie, it also has beaches, but Martin said 95% of the airport’s travelers fly on business. Leisure travelers to Erie usually drive in from cities including Cleveland and Pittsburgh.