Regions Air Flying Again after Satisfying FAA request

Mar. 4 -- St. Louis air service to resume

Regions Air says it has satisfied FAA

DECATUR -- Regions Air on Saturday temporarily grounded flights out of St. Louis to nine cities, including Decatur, following a review by the Federal Aviation Administration, but announced it planned to be flying today.

Nathan Vallier, Regions Air director of sales and marketing, said late Saturday that Regions Air anticipated flights resuming today.

"We have satsified the request of the FAA to update our manual covering the Line Check Airmen and we are returning aircraft and crews to our American Connection network, Vallier said in a news release. "We anticipate resumption of service early (today) to all of our cities in the St. Louis system ..."

U.S. airline captains, in addition to simulator checks and recurrent ground training, have to have their proficiency observed in a 'line check' at least once a year. A check airman sits in the cockpit and observes a normal flight.

Saturday's cancellations came after U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, last week called for better air service to Decatur Airport and other downstate communities.

Earlier Saturday, Vallier, a Mount Zion native, had said in a phone interview that he ex­;pected to have the procedural issues that caused the cancellations resolved quickly.

"Decatur will be one of the first markets we restart," Vallier said Saturday. "Decatur is one of the busiest and one of the most important."

Vallier said the cancellations were "strictly an administrative move." At no time, he said, was the safety of its passengers or employees compromised.

"Somebody was looking at the manual and found an out-of-date procedure, so we had to pull down flying ... while we have that procedure updated," Vallier said.

He said the procedure in question amounted to a paragraph in the manual that had been in place for 11 years. The airline's pilots were recalled Friday to its Tennessee headquarters to complete the required recertification training under the reworded procedure.

About 100 passengers out of Decatur have been affected, Vallier said. Regions Air provides essential air service between St. Louis and Decatur Airport.

"We sincerely regret any travel interruptions that have occurred (Saturday),"he said.

Taxpayers subsidize the air service for airports in Decatur, Marion and Quincy. Regions Air receives more than $3.5 million per year in federal subsidies to provide service to the downstate communities.

Regions Air also has flights between St. Louis and Springfield.

Durbin on Tuesday called for the downstate communities to consider other airlines when their contracts with Regions Air expire. He was disappointed with the Saturday's cancellations, which at the time had been expected to last until Monday.

"This is yet another example of how Regions Air has failed the tests of safety and service," Durbin said. "Our downstate communities deserve better."

Vallier said the airline can improve its on-time record, which he said has been affected by recent inclement weather, and is working to make improvements. He acknowledged it may take a lot to get consumer confidence back.

But he wishes Durbin would have worked with the airline more. Three other airlines are bidding for the essential air service, Vallier said.

"He's asking for our removal, not for us to fix it," Vallier said. "I think that's a very motivated letter from a senator we thought we worked well with to establish air service in Illinois."

Vallier said the airline would like to step up its community involvement in Decatur, something other airlines might not be able to do.

Decatur officials were surprised by the cancellations, and have said that they haven't had the problems with Regions Air other cities might have experienced.

"Up until this point, the cancellation rate has not been excessive for us other than weather-related problems that other people have experienced over the past month or so," said Bill Clevenger, Decatur Park District executive director.

The Park District oversees the airport's operations. Its contract with Regions Air doesn't expire until 2008, while the other cities have contracts that expire earlier.

"With this development here, we become very concerned and on watch on what the status is going to be in the future," Clevenger said.

Clevenger said the park district's main concern is getting passengers safely out of Decatur.

"Travelers have an expectation, and whether it be business-related or leisure-related, people have an expectation that they want to get to a given point at a certain time," Clevenger said.

The problems with Regions Air come as air service between Decatur and Chicago Midway resumed in February. The Chicago Midway service is with Mesa Airlines.

Vallier said he will be meeting on Monday with Decatur, Archer Daniels Midland Co. and possibly Tate & Lyle Inc. officials, offering an apology for the cancellations.

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