February 03, 2011

Manchin Fights to Save Essential Air Service Program That Provides Lifeline, Jobs for Rural Communities

Without EAS, 5 Communities in West Virginia Would Lose Air Service Manchin Says EAS Should Be Improved, Not Eliminated

Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) today joined with his Senate colleagues to reject a proposal that would eliminate key investments in five of West Virginia’s rural airports, jeopardizing jobs all over the state and country. An amendment being offered by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) would eliminate the Essential Air Service (EAS) Program, which makes significant investments to support commercial air service to rural communities in West Virginia and across the country.

The investments reduce the deficit over the legislation’s lifetime.

In a letter to Senator McCain today, Manchin and his colleagues urged improvement – not elimination – of the EAS Program.

“Cutting transportation to rural West Virginia will not only hurt our state’s economy, it will also cost jobs and affect people’s quality of life,” Senator Manchin said. “Communities in my state rely on the Essential Air Services to conduct business and as a part of their everyday lives – many don’t have other transportation options. Eliminating the program will jeopardize existing jobs, not to mention prevent new businesses from setting up shop. Rather than simply eliminating a program that is working for so many, we should work together on commonsense ideas to make improvements.”

Five West Virginia communities received a total of $8,730,500 in investments last year, including Beckley ($2,092,844), Clarksburg ($1,058,325), Greenbrier/White Sulphur Spr/Lewisburg ($2,330,725), Morgantown ($1,058,325) and Parkersburg/Marietta ($2,190,281).

Essential Air Service was established after the 1978 deregulation of the airline industry and has grown into a vital, non-controversial, program that connects Americans living in rural communities with the rest of the world. Manchin joined Senators Mark Begich (D-AK), Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Bob Casey (D-PA) in sending the letter. The Senators said that air service is critical to a wide range of businesses and industries, and the loss of this vital lifeline would not only greatly inconvenience travelers, but would derail economic development efforts – businesses could close and tourists would choose other destinations. 


A full copy of the letter is below:

Dear Senator McCain:

We are writing to express our opposition to your amendment to the FAA Reauthorization bill repealing the Essential Air Service (EAS) program. As it is currently drafted, we will not support your amendment, and will be calling upon other Senators representing communities that benefit from the EAS program to oppose it as well.

As you know, the Essential Air Service was established after the 1978 deregulation of the airline industry and has grown into a vital, non-controversial, program that connects Americans living in rural communities with the rest of the world. According to May 2010 data, there are 109 airports in the contiguous 48 states, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, as well as 44 in Alaska, receiving subsidized service.

Eliminating the program will have a devastating impact on the economies of rural communities. At a moment when the nation’s economic recovery is starting to gain momentum, it makes little sense to reduce personal and business travel volume by cutting off residents of rural areas. And at a time when jobs are already so hard to come by in our rural communities, it makes even less sense to enact cuts that will only make the problem worse.

Over the years, Congress and the Department of Transportation have worked to streamline the EAS program to increase its efficiency, mostly by eliminating subsidy support for communities that are within a reasonable driving distance of a major hub airport.  The FAA Reauthorization bill currently being debated by the Senate proposes a number of additional improvements, such as allowing new financial incentives for EAS carriers to encourage better service; allowing longer-term EAS contracts if such an arrangement is in the public interest; allowing incentives for large airlines to code-share on service to small communities; and requiring large airlines to code-share on EAS flights in up to ten communities.

Because we strongly believe in this program and understand the fiscal challenges facing our nation, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss ways to improve EAS.  But we strongly oppose ending it.  We ask that you abandon your attempts to repeal EAS and work with us to ensure its continued success across the nation.