Thief River Falls airline service to resume in June


It looks like Thief River Falls will have air service after all, the Grand Forks Herald reports.

Great Lakes Aviation had stopped serving the northern Minnesota airport in February, isolating the region by cutting off a key transportation link for the area to the Twin Cities and beyond.

The town of 9,000 is home to several international companies, including Arctic Cat and Digi-Key Corp., a goods distributor with 2,800 employees. "As a global, $1.5 billion business, travel is essential, especially since we're here in the middle of nowhere," Digi-Key spokeswoman Michelle Gjerde had told the Associated Press.

Great Lakes officials said they were hurt by new Federal Aviation Administration regulations that require flight co-pilots to have 1,500 hours of flight experience, up from 250. Great Lakes had to cancel up to one-third of flights, and eventually suspended all service.

But as part of a new plan to deal with a shortage of pilots who meet the new standard, Great Lakes will reconfigure its 19-passenger planes to carry just nine passengers, which will allow co-pilots to fly even if they have fewer than 1,500 hours, the Herald reports. The carrier will provide 12 weekly round-trip flights between Thief River Falls and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the newspaper reports.

The company hopes to return to its 19-seat planes when it has enough pilots who meet the standard, but it's not clear when that would happen, officials say.

The airline has cut or trimmed service in a number of other towns in the Upper Midwest, leaving them feeling cut off, too.

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