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Congress debates air service subsidies; Quincy, other U.S. cities could lose flights
April 14, 2011
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  • By Doug Wilson
    April 7, 2011

    Quincy and about 100 other U.S. cities would lose air service under a plan approved by the U.S. House last week.

    The House plan would eliminate Essential Air Service (EAS) that sustains commercial air service to about 110 airports in the continental United States by October 2013. Senate members opposed the plan, which now heads to a conference committee where Senate and House members will seek a compromise.

    Andrew Bonney, vice president of planning for Cape Air, said passenger numbers are climbing at Quincy Regional Airport, but at this time the flight schedule “would not be sustainable” without EAS.

    Amy Looten, executive director of the Quincy Area Chamber of Commerce, said it would be “very detrimental to the business community” if Quincy loses commercial air service. She said local manufacturers have global customers who need air connections into the community and need service and sales forces with good connections to them.

    “Air service is an important item in our toolbox for economic development,” Looten said.
    Quincy Mayor John Spring said it would be “devastating to our community” to lose this air service, and jobs would be lost.

    The vote to end EAS subsidies came last Friday, the same day Cape Air reported its best month for flights between Quincy Regional Airport and Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. Cape Air had 773 departing passengers during March and a total of 1,969 enplanements during the first quarter. That’s up from 578 enplanements in March 2010 and 1,422 for the first quarter of last year.

    Cape Air started local service in November 2009 and receives $1.9 million a year to cover the costs of providing six round trip flights between Quincy and Lambert International Airport at St. Louis on week days and three round trips on weekends.

    Bonney said most airports in the United States qualify for the EAS program, but no subsidies are needed in most of them.

    “The vast majority of Cape Air’s service is outside the EAS program,” Bonney said.

    Cape Air’s success in Quincy has revolved around a $49 one-way ticket price, six daily round-trip flights that make connections easy in St. Louis and a code share agreement that allows seamless connections with American Airlines and an interline ticketing and baggage agreement with United Airlines.

    All four U.S. House members from this region voted to end EAS subsidies as part of a reauthorization bill funding the Federal Aviation Administration.

    “I supported an FAA reauthorization measure that would save taxpayers $4.4 billion. We are facing a budget crisis and must make tough decisions on how to best use taxpayer funds,” U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, said.

    Steve Dutton, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, said Schock has been supportive of EAS airports that allow airlines to serve small and rural communities. Dutton said as Congress deals with a $14 trillion debt, “tough decisions” have to be made in the federal budget.

    Steve Tomaszewski, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said government spending cuts will be felt in every state.

    U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, Mo., also voted for the aviation program cuts. In his 9th District, Kirksville is served by Cape Air, receiving a $1.4 million subsidy.

    “We understand the need of rural communities to have air service, which helps attract and create jobs. We have to balance that need with getting a handle on our nation’s crippling deficit and debt,” Keith Beardslee, Luetkemeyer’s deputy press secretary, said.

    Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., does not want to see U.S. jobs and economic development sacrificed in a deficit reduction plan to eliminate EAS.

    “I support an EAS program that puts in place important reforms to ensure that the Department of Transportation works with businesses, local communities and the airline industry to start and retain quality air service to rural communities like Quincy,” Durbin said.

    Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said the EAS is an investment that sustains U.S. jobs and cutting it from the budget would be counterproductive.

    Business leaders in the Quincy area have sought commercial flights to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to add greater international connections. That expansion would not be possible without the EAS program.

    “Cape Air has had tremendous success in Quincy, and our business community would really like to expand that service to Chicago. We still hope that can happen,” Looten said.

    Date: 2011-04-07