Senate Democrats

Begich, Nelson, Casey, Manchin Fight To Save “Essential Air Service” Program — EAS Helps Lure Businesses, Boost Tourism And Provides A Lifeline For Rural Communities Across The Country

Without EAS Program 154 Rural Communities Across the Country Would Be Stripped of Air Service, Crippling Economies – 44 in AK, 7 in NE, 6 in PA and 5 in WV

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark Begich (D-AK), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) today released a letter outlining their opposition to an amendment offered by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) to eliminate the Essential Air Service (EAS) program.  EAS provides critical investments to support commercial air service to rural communities across the country, and is particularly important to Alaska, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  Without EAS, a total of 62 communities in those states would lose air service, leaving businesses and travelers in the lurch. Senator McCain is attempting to amend the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act (S. 223) which, in part, extends the Essential Air Service program.  The bill reduces the deficit over the legislation’s lifespan.  

In the letter, the Senators wrote: “Eliminating the program will have a devastating impact on the economies of rural communities. At a moment when the nation’s economic recovery is starting to gain momentum, it makes little sense to reduce personal and business travel volume by cutting off residents of rural areas. And at a time when jobs are already so hard to come by in our rural communities, it makes even less sense to enact cuts that will only make the problem worse.”

Essential Air Service was established after the 1978 deregulation of the airline industry and has grown into a vital, non-controversial program that connects Americans living in rural communities with the rest of the world.  The senators said that air service is critical to a wide range of businesses and industries, and the loss of this vital lifeline would not only greatly inconvenience travelers, but would derail economic development efforts – businesses could close and tourists would choose other destinations. 

The senators noted that their states particularly benefit from the Essential Air Service program.  In Alaska, 44 community airports are served by EAS-supported airlines, which received a total of approximately $12.5 million last year in subsidies. In Nebraska, seven community airports are served by EAS-supported airlines, which received a total of approximately $11.2 million last year in subsidies. In Pennsylvania, six community airports are served by EAS-supported airlines, which received a total of approximately $8.8 million last year in subsidies. In West Virginia, five community airports are served by EAS-supported airlines which received a total of approximately $8.7 million last year in subsidies. 

A copy of the Senators’ letter appears below:

Dear Senator McCain:

We are writing to express our opposition to your amendment to the FAA Reauthorization bill repealing the Essential Air Service (EAS) program. As it is currently drafted, we will not support your amendment, and will be calling upon other Senators representing communities that benefit from the EAS program to oppose it as well.

As you know, the Essential Air Service was established after the 1978 deregulation of the airline industry and has grown into a vital, non-controversial, program that connects Americans living in rural communities with the rest of the world. According to May 2010 data, there are 109 airports in the contiguous 48 states, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, as well as 44 in Alaska, receiving subsidized service.

Eliminating the program will have a devastating impact on the economies of rural communities. At a moment when the nation’s economic recovery is starting to gain momentum, it makes little sense to reduce personal and business travel volume by cutting off residents of rural areas. And at a time when jobs are already so hard to come by in our rural communities, it makes even less sense to enact cuts that will only make the problem worse.

Over the years, Congress and the Department of Transportation have worked to streamline the EAS program to increase its efficiency, mostly by eliminating subsidy support for communities that are within a reasonable driving distance of a major hub airport.  The FAA Reauthorization bill currently being debated by the Senate proposes a number of additional improvements, such as allowing new financial incentives for EAS carriers to encourage better service; allowing longer-term EAS contracts if such an arrangement is in the public interest; allowing incentives for large airlines to code-share on service to small communities; and requiring large airlines to code-share on EAS flights in up to ten communities.

Because we strongly believe in this program and understand the fiscal challenges facing our nation, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss ways to improve EAS.  But we strongly oppose ending it.  We ask that you abandon your attempts to repeal EAS and work with us to ensure its continued success across the nation. 

Sincerely,

Senator Begich

Senator Nelson

Senator Casey

Senator Manchin

Bookmark and Share