August 7, 2011
By Ann Schreder
During the past two weeks, the congressional fight over renewing funds for the Federal Aviation Administration has been snagged on several issues, including subsidies for small rural airports.
Called the Essential Air Service program, the plan attracts airlines to provide scheduled service for about 150 airports – a third of which are in Alaska.
The concern has been that people living in more remote areas won’t have access to the national transportation system without the subsidies.
Since the EAS was established as part of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, there have been moves to discontinue the subsidies.
“Every now and then, EAS funding is a political football that gets kicked around,” said Russ Machen, manager of the Cortez Municipal Airport that is one of three EAS communities in Colorado.
To resolve the partial FAA shutdown, the U.S. Senate approved a bill Friday to extend the FAA’s operating authority to Sept. 16.
Part of the deal includes a stipulation to cut $16.5 million out of the $200 million EAS program, resulting in loss of air service to 13 rural communities. None of those are in Colorado.
Cortez receives a $1,847,657 subsidy for three flights Monday through Friday and two flights on Saturdays and Sundays.
San Luis Valley Regional Airport in Alamosa receives a $1,987,155. Pueblo Memorial Airport gets $1,299,821. All of the contracts expire in 2012.
Mark Lovin, airport manager for Pueblo Memorial Airport, said he is working “to get to the point we wean ourselves off” of the EAS subsidy.
“It’s our responsibility as a community to do things to support and grow this market,” Lovin said. “The goal is to fill up all these airplanes and then you don’t need EAS.”
Advertising, outreach and support from the city have paid off, Lovin said, with passenger traffic up 25 percent in the past two years.
In 2009, Pueblo had nearly 5,000 passengers; last year, it was 11,000, “and we’re on track for 20,000 this year,” Lovin said. Two of the four Great Lakes Aviation flights are subsidized, with about eight passengers on each 19-seat plane.
All of Great Lakes’ flights from Alamosa, Cortez and Pueblo are aboard Great Lakes turboprops that feed passengers into Denver International Airport.
The EAS program, Lovin said, “is a real important operating part of DIA. It allows DIA to reach out and build traffic by feeding passengers through Denver. In this day and age, you can’t let any customers get by you.”
Cheyenne-based Great Lakes Aviation did not respond to requests for comment. However, company filings show that nearly half of its total revenue is from the EAS program.
Great Lakes serves 47 airports in 12 Western states, documents show, with a majority receiving EAS funds. Hubs are in Denver, Phoenix, and Ontario, Calif.
In March, the last month figures were available, Great Lakes flew 40,316 passengers in and out of DIA – up from 34,752 passengers in March 2010.
A number of Great Lakes’ Denver passengers hail from the Kansas communities of Dodge City, Garden City and Hays.
On Thursday, Dodge City officials voted to ask the federal government to continue subsidizing daily flights on Great Lakes between Dodge City and Denver.
Rural airports in Colorado spared fight over FAA subsidies – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_18628863#ixzz1USqfm59t
Source: DENVER POST