New federal regulations aimed at making commuter aircraft
operations safer could end up cutting the number of seats available
to travelers, particularly in the West.
The Federal Aviation Administration earlier this month changed
its weight formula for commercial airlines, as a result of the Jan.
8 crash of an Air Midwest (US Airways Express) Beech 1900D in
Under the old standards, each passenger including his clothing
and carry-on baggage was estimated to weigh 180 pounds for
summertime travel and 185 for wintertime.
The new assumption is 190 pounds. Each piece of checked luggage
is estimated to weigh 30 pounds. The old assumption was 25.
The new increased weight estimates apply to all airlines, but
are expected to especially affect smaller, regional operations
because the smaller the airplane, the more critical weight factors
The new rules also are expected to affect the West most because,
although commuter airlines operate smaller 19-seat aircraft across
the country, the western part of the country may be
disproportionately reliant upon them. “I think the West will
significantly be impacted by this,” said David Stempler, president
of the Washington, D.C.-based Air Travelers Association.
In the West, “these planes [often] need to travel long
distances. That means more fuel. You can’t reduce the fuel, so you
have to reduce the cargo or number of passengers.”
Travel agents booking client trips could find fewer regional
commuter seats available, particularly at certain times.
“The impact (of the new rules) would be during peak periods,
such as holidays,” said Brian Streeval, an analyst for the
Colorado-based Boyd Group, a major aviation consultancy. “The
Fridays, the Sundays, the busy travel days of the week.”
And some locations could be affected more than others.
“There are a lot of 19-seat aircraft based particularly out of
Denver, serving western communities,” Streeval said.
Agents should also be aware that clients could be bumped, or
unable to book the flight they want, when both temperature and
The higher the temperature and the more elevated the airport,
the more critical weight regulations become. That’s because warm
air is thinner and aircraft takeoff runs must be longer.
“The whole state of Wyoming would definitely be impacted,”
particularly during peak summer tourist times, Streeval said.
Much of that state lies at 4,000 feet above sea level or higher.
Certain rural locations in Colorado also could be hurt and Pueblo
is another “hot and high” field, he said.
Analysts said agents should be aware that the number of seats
available could be more limited than in the past. Booking ahead or
mapping out backup transportation could become increasingly
Still, they said, with some planning, agents should be able to
find available seats for clients.
“These 19-seat aircraft do not generally run very high load
factors,” said Streeval.
He estimates that most of the time they’re flying about half
full. Late last week, the NTSB was holding a hearing on the North
Carolina crash that prompted the new rules. Although no probable
cause has been established, evidence continues to point toward
weight and balance as playing a possible role in the accident.