Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Some question need for Essential Air Service program, which provides flights to remote areas

The Essential Air Service program is an important government-funded resource that provides 113 separate commercial flights to rural and remote areas. Many of the flights are sparsely booked, so some planes travel with only a handful of passengers, a fact that has some questioning the usefulness of a costly program that serves only a small number of individuals. (Wikipedia map)

"The cost to taxpayers for subsidizing those journeys has quadrupled in the last decade to a whopping $261 million, which has some lawmakers convinced the program is anything but essential," Kris Van Cleave reports for CBS This Morning. For example, a 50-seat jet that leaves Denver twice per day for two remote North Dakota towns costs the U.S. Department of Transportation more than $6 million a year.

Passengers say the flights save them hours of travel time, and local officials say the flights attract businesses and help stimulate local economies, Van Cleave reports. Devils Lake, N.D., mayor Dick Johnson told Van Cleave, "It's key to our cities. I think small rural communities are a major part of our country, and to keep them viable, to keep them functional, to keep them a viable community, sometimes you need to have help from the big communities."

But others are not convinced, especially since government data shows that 44 of the routes flew at least two-thirds empty last year, Van Cleave writes. Steve Ellis, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, told Van Cleave, "The Essential Air Service is really a relic of deregulation, airline deregulation, back in the 70s. We shouldn't be spending hundreds of millions just to make things a little easier for a few people to actually get to the airport." (Read more)

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