A bipartisan group of senators is fighting to maintain commercial air service in rural communities after the Trump administration called for eliminating federal support for such a program.
In a letter to the administration on Monday, a group of lawmakers led by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) expressed concern over the president’s budget proposal, which would cut all funding for Essential Air Service (EAS).
The 40-year-old program helps give small towns and remote communities access to air service, where it can otherwise be difficult to support financially.
“Without this support, many rural areas may no longer have access to air services,” the letter says. “This would significantly reduce support for rural communities in our states. A reduction in support could lead to a reduction in services and ultimately in jobs for rural America.”
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao recognized the importance of the EAS program during a recent Senate hearing, assuring rural lawmakers that she is “working with the administration to address” the issue.
But the administration may need to work harder to assuage their concerns, as criticism has been mounting that a number of Trump’s initiatives would leave rural communities behind.
Another contentious aviation idea endorsed by Trump would separate air traffic control from the federal government and hand it over to a nonprofit or nongovernmental agency in an effort to modernize operations.
Critics argue that the interests of the general aviation industry and small airports would not be adequately represented under such a model and worry that an outside agency would impose new fees and taxes.
Lawmakers will have a chance to debate Trump’s aviation proposals when they work to reauthorize of the Federal Aviation Administration, whose legal authority expires in September.
“As we move forward with the budget and FAA Reauthorization, we ask that you work with us on issues and challenges pertinent to rural aviation, and keep us informed relative to any changes regarding the EAS program,” the senators wrote.