Friday, March 24, 2017

Small airports ponder the impact of eliminating subsidies for scheduled passenger service

The Essential Air Service program, which provides federal subsidies to airlines that serve airports in lesser-populated areas, may be cut under President's Trump's proposed 2018 budget. EAS, a $175 million program, was put in place after airline deregulation in 1978 to guarantee that airlines would serve smaller communities. Danielle Kaeding of the Wisconsin Public Radio talked to people at the Rhinelander and Chippewa Valley airports, which are among rural communities served through the program.

Associated Press photo
Chippewa Valley Regional Airport Director Charity Zich told Kaeding that United Airlines provides daily flights from the region to Chicago O’Hare and the program helps the airport compete in a global economy. "Around 30 percent of the airports in the country rely on the user-fee funded program to support airline service in 173 communities across 36 states," Zich told her.

In 2011, Mesaba Airlines discontinued its service to Rhinelander, around the same time that the number of passengers using the airport dropped from around 52,000 to 22,000, Kaeding writes. Rhinelander/Oneida County Airport Director Joe Brauer told  Kaeding that EAS "has benefited the airport since 2011, and passengers have been increasing as the economy has improved." Brauer and Zich were confident that eliminating EAS wouldn't make their airports close, because they have many corporate and general-aviation users.

"Trump’s budget states flights through the program aren’t full and have high subsidy costs per passenger. Brauer said the subsidy they receive per passenger has dropped by more than 70 percent as the number of passengers has almost doubled in the last five years to 41,579 last year," Kaeding reports.

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