Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Summit Q&A with John Reed

The Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce welcomed hundreds of local business leaders at an Economic Summit on Tuesday, January 23rd at the Mayo Civic Center. Rochester International Airport Executive Director, John Reed, contributed to an industry panel discussion where he shared the following responses to questions about the state of the aviation industry and updates from RST.

Looking back at 2023, what were the standout challenges for your industry?

The pilot shortage, specifically a shortage of Captains, continues to impact airlines' ability to reinstate and add new routes to regional airports like RST.

  • During the pandemic, 5,000 pilots took early retirement (7% of all pilots)*
  • 46% of current pilots must retire in the next 15 years*
  • Cost of training deters young pilots

As a result of the pilot shortage, aircraft are unavailable because:

  • The lack of pilots causes 700+ regional jets to be parked
  • Pilots are required to obtain the same qualifications to fly commercial aircraft no matter the size of the plane (50 seats or 306 seats)
  • The overall cost of doing business is rising

What are the key highlights of Runway Safety Project 2/20 and how does this position RST for the future?

Runway Safety Project 2/20 is an exceptionally critical infrastructure project for our community. The runway had reached the end of its structural, useful life and needed repair. Construction began in 2021 and the airport completed phase three in the fall of 2023. This most recent phase included rebuilding runway 2/20, acquisition of land for the runway extension, and the installation of a Category II Instrument Landing System (ILS) on intersecting Runway 31 which improves the ability for aircraft to land during inclement weather.  Improvements to the nearby runway safety area were made at the same time the ILS was installed. Maintaining dual runway access and improving the all-weather operations are critical to sustaining operations of the three areas of business fueled by air service at the airport—commercial aviation, cargo, and heavy general aviation. The entire $80 million project is estimated to be complete in 2027.

How has your industry been impacted by state or federal legislation this past year?

Transportation infrastructure has been underfunded for decades. The bipartisan infrastructure legislation by the federal government is a positive investment into airport infrastructure. RST will receive $9 million to use for rebuilding a 31-year-old ramp. I am grateful for this federal legislation and want to thank the Minnesota legislature and the MN Department of Transportation Aeronautics as well. Their organizations provide matching grants for the federal effort and make improvements at our local airport possible.

Workforce continues to be a concern for employers and their respective industries in Rochester. What strategies is your organization implementing to overcome this obstacle?

We are proud of our partnership with Rochester Community and Technical College and Great Planes Aviation to create one of the first two-year pilot training programs in the country. This pathway offers prospective pilots the opportunity to go from no experience to obtaining a private pilot certificate, instrument rating, commercial pilot certificate, multi-engine rating, and certified flight instructor certificate in just two years. To ensure event more students have the opportunity to enter this career pathway, RST worked closely with the members of our general aviation community to seed a scholarship for students entering this program which is held at the Rochester Area Community Foundation.

What is the outlook for 2024?

Looking ahead, we need your support as business leaders and community members to create the changes to commercial air service at RST. Competition among communities of our size is intense. We need each of you to deeply consider flying through RST to curb the passengers leaked to MSP and demonstrate to the airlines that we have enough demand in our community to match it with their available aircraft capacity. If you looked at your upcoming travel this year and can fly out of RST for just one or two of those trips, it could be enough to show the airlines our community deserves their service. If you're interested in becoming a FlyLocal supporter, schedule some time with us.

2024 Chamber of Commerce Economic Summit Industry Panel Participants

L to R: Ryan Parsons, President, Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce; Chad Behnken, Vice President, Hamilton Real Estate Group; • Mike Benike, President, Benike Construction; • Bradley Lahr, Vice Chair, Mayo Clinic Facilities and leadership team member of Bold. Forward. Unbound. in Rochester; • John Reed, Executive Director, Rochester International Airport (RST)

*Data from Volaire Aviation Consulting

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