WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- Lawmakers across the country – including those from North Dakota – are hopeful they can save the Essential Air Service.
President Trump's proposed budget calls for the elimination of the EAS.
The program subsidizes commuter air carriers that service 115 communities in the lower 48. Three of them are in North Dakota -- Dickinson, Devils Lake, and Jamestown.
“The cuts to Essential Air Serivce would be devastating to air service in rural communities," said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).
Heitkamp points to ridership numbers as a reason to keep the program going.
According to the North Dakota Aeronautical Commission, ridership at Devils Lake increased from 2,667 in 2013 to 6,290 in 2016. The number at Jamestown was 2,672 in 2013, and it rose to 11,123 last year.
“Many of those flight are full. They’re at capacity, and it demonstrates that it’s working," explained Heitkamp.
Some say the EAS has grown too big. The program now costs taxpayers $175 million, and opponents don’t think it services enough people to justify the cost.
“There have been reports about planes flying form Hagerstown, MD to Baltimore, MD – a distance of about 75 miles – with literally one passenger," explained Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.
Schatz calls the EAS is a “privilege” and believes those who use it should pay more.
He concedes there are some communities so remote that air travel is the only option. But, he says, there should be a standard put in place them.
“Maybe in this case, a better, more effective program for those airports that truly need some kind of subsidy should be provided, and even then, the state and local governments can step in and help as well," said Schatz.
The EAS has been on the chopping block before, but lawmakers have been able to afloat. They’re optimistic they will this time too.
For a list of the carriers that get EAS funding, and the airports that could be impacted, click "related links."