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"Aviation programs for small communities up for debate in Congress"

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Aviation programs for small communities up for debate in Congress. 
By Leslie Wollack
Nation's Cities Weekly 

Federal support for air service to small communities will be part of the
debate when Congress considers extension of federal aviation programs this

Two key federal programs that benefit smaller communities across the nation
were the subject of a hearing before the House Transportation and
Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation, chaired by Rep. Jerry Costello

The Essential Air Service (EAS) provides about $100 million in subsides each
year to communities that would not have service without the program; and the
Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASDP) provides about $20
million per year in grants that have benefited smaller communities across
the nation. The proposed FAA reauthorization bill proposed by the
Administration would end funding for the SCASDP and restrict future growth
of the EAS program.

Since the EAS program was started to help communities that would lose
service due to airline deregulation, the federal government has provided
subsidies ranging from about $13 to $677 per passenger.

Air carriers apply directly to the U.S. Department of Transportation for
subsidies under the EAS program. Financial conditions in the aviation
industry and the terrorist attacks of September 11 contributed to further
reduction in airport service to medium and small communities.

The Administration's proposal to reauthorize federal airport programs
includes a number of changes to the EAS program. The proposed changes would
freeze the program at the status quo and not allow any newcommunities to
enter the program and freeze funding at $50 million per year which would not
support currently subsided programs.

Future eligibility would be limited to communities that are more than 70
driving miles from the nearest large or medium hub airport.

SCASDP was established as a pilot to provide grants to small communities to
help them enhance air service in FY 2001. The one time grant helps create
self sustaining air service improvements and the demand has exceeded the
program. The Administration's FAA proposal does not request further funding
for the SCASD program

For smaller communities, both programs have played a significant role in
attacking and retaining businesses, according to municipal airport operators
testifying before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee
on Aviation last week.

"EAS service is important to our region mainly because of
economicdevelopment ... For any company looking to relocate or expand in
ourcommunity, one of the first questions we will be asked is, 'how far are
you from a commercial airport,'" noted Bill Hansell, commissioner, Umatilla
County, Ore.

The SCASDP "provides opportunity for small and non-hub airports toincrease
air service. Additionally, it gives airports the potential for developing
and implementing marketing plans not necessarily possible with budget
constraints on small airports," said Robert A Grierson, airport manager,
Dubuque, Iowa, Regional Airport.

Congress will consider possible changes to the EAS and SCASD programs as
part of a larger discussion on reauthorization of federal airport programs
and the taxes that support these programs this spring and summer. The House
Aviation Subcommittee has held a series of hearings on the programs, which
both expire on September 30.

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