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Thu May 12, 2011
Essential Air Service program in trouble
WASHINGTON (WNMU) – A federal program that subsidizes commercial air service for small towns and rural communities across the lower 48 states is struggling to remain aloft.
The program, known as Essential Air Service, began in 1978 after the government deregulated the airlines. It gives carriers a financial incentive not to drop lightly traveled routes that lose money.
Conservatives say the $200 million program is wasteful, while supporters say it’s a lifesaver for rural economies. Now, they say it’s more vulnerable than ever as Congress tries to reduce the budget deficit.
U.P. airports that are subsidized include Delta County, Ford Airport in Iron Mountain, Houghton County, Chippewa County, and Gogebic-Iron County, whose payments in February ranged from $200,000 to $2 million.
The House has voted to phase out the program. The Senate would spare it but tighten eligibility criteria in ways that could disqualify some airports.