Officials lauded the U.S. Senate’s passing of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill earlier this week as a boon for essential air service throughout the state.
“This is great news for the Essential Air Service program and the City of McCook. This will allow for commercial air service to continue in McCook,” said McCook Public Works Director Kyle Potthoff Wednesday.
Potthoff’s comments came in response to a release from U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith announcing the move and its inclusion of the Small Airport Regulation Relief Act, introduced by Smith and Wyoming U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis in 2015.
The Small Airport Regulation Relief Act requires the FAA to use enplanement numbers from the calendar year 2012 when calculating appropriate annual funds for airports through the Airport Improvement Program. It would ensure those airports which reached 10,000 enplanements in 2012 — before new federal pilot regulations took effect — could use the enplanement numbers from that year, according to the release.
“Commercial air service is vital to rural America,” Smith said. “Some of Nebraska’s small airports, such as Kearney, North Platte, and Scottsbluff, successfully qualified for the Airport Improvement Program before the pilot shortage reduced their enplanements. The bill I introduced with Rep. Lummis would ensure small airports are not penalized twice by the heavy burdens of federal pilot regulations. I am pleased to see our bill included in the Senate’s FAA reauthorization and look forward to reviewing the full legislation when it comes to the House.”
McCook will not be impacted by the use of 2012 enplanement numbers, as the airport never reached the 10,000 enplanement mark, but Potthoff indicated it could have been a devastating impact on other airports in the region.
Airports that reach 10,000 annual enplanements qualify for a federal funding increase from $150,000 per year to $1,000,000 per year.
“Without being allowed to use the 2012 enplanement numbers, those airports that had been at 10,000 enplanements, and then due to the pilot shortage dropped below the 10,000 enplanement mark, would lose that additional $850,000. This would be a pretty major hit to those airports’ budgets,” he said.
Boutique Air is scheduled to take the Commercial Air Service reins at McCook Ben Nelson Regional Airport in June, when the city’s contract with Great Lakes Airlines expires. The airline projects it will transport 3,539 passengers annually.
Great Lakes boarded 333 commercial passengers in 2015 and 402 passengers in 2014, indicating at the time the decrease stemmed from changes to federal regulation. The airport averaged 1,795 commercial enplanements annually during the five years prior.
U.S. Rep. Lummis chided one-size-fits-all regulation and similarly touted the FAA reauthorization bill’s passing.
“Small and rural airports across the west warrant our support because they are vital to western economies,” said Rep. Lummis in the press release. “Our legislation takes a practical approach by helping reduce the harm of one-size-fits-all federal regulations. I’ll continue to work with Rep. Smith and the authorizing committees to ensure we continue to help the little guys.”
The Airport Improvement Program provides funds for projects to improve infrastructure, including runways, taxiways, aprons, noise control, land purchases, navigational aids, safety and security, according to the release.