May 12, 2011 By Megan Peterson
The Chippewa Valley Regional Airport could lose it’s airline service if a federal aid program is eliminated.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted to phase out the “Essential Air Service” program. Airport Manager of the CVRA Charity Speich says United Express gets $1.7 million a year from the program, which makes it affordable to serve the smaller, more rural airport.
“158 cities that have airline service that would potentially no longer have airline service,” Speich said.
She says the “Essential Air Service” program helps smaller airports stay afloat. It offers carriers a financial incentive not to drop lightly traveled routes.
“The money goes to the airline and so we would not, the airline would essentially lose that financial assistance,” Speich explained.
If the extra money is taken away, some airlines may not serve rural airports.
“To lose 25% of the communities in the country that currently have airline service would be a huge deterrent to the nation. That’s a lot of communities,” she added.
With more passengers boarding in Eau Claire, Speich’s hope is her airport can someday survive without the subsidy program.
“The hope would be that the program continues, selfishly at least for us, until we can generate the traffic levels we need for the airline to no longer need the financial assistance,” Speich said. Speich says the “Essential Air Service” program is funded by aviation user fees, not money from a general fund. It provides $200 million in subsidies to the airlines.
Democratic Representative Ron Kind says he wants to look at reform, but does not support eliminating funding.
“We need to get our country on a sound fiscal path but we cannot do so by threatening the economic prosperity of some of our most vulnerable communities,” said Rep. Ron Kind. “While we need to look at reforming the Essential Air Service program, suddenly ending funding for this program right now will only hurt our local communities. The program is vital not only to our regional and rural airports like the Chippewa Valley airport, but to local communities as well – as the program helps ensure businesses and residents have access to the transportation services they need to continue spurring economic development.” – Rep. Ron Kind
Republican Congressman Sean Duffy’s office told WEAU that he is confident the “Essential Air Service” program will be restored in the final law.
“Congressman Duffy fully supports Chippewa Valley Regional Airport and is confident that the EAS program will be restored in the final law. Congressman Duffy’s vote was not to eliminate the program, but to provide the air transportation industry with a reliable source of funding for their infrastructure and safety in the FAA reauthorization bill. The FAA bill’s passage benefits all airports and all those who use them.” – Rep. Sean Duffy’s office