Airline services to rural communities threatened in latest round of budget cuts.
Cuts target rural ‘lifeline’
Tiny towns say government-funded air service essential
Air travel is not always convenient. But how about having to drive more than 120 miles, much of it on a two-lane road, just to get to the airport?
That’s what the folks in Brownwood, Texas, have had to put up with since they lost their commercial air service a year ago, and that’s what dozens of other communities across rural America could face if the White House succeeds in slashing the Essential Air Service program. […]
Each year, Congress spends about $100 million on the program, which pays small airlines to fly to rural airports they would otherwise avoid because there aren’t enough passengers to cover the cost.
The Bush administration has repeatedly tried to shrink the program to serve only the most remote communities. […]
Under the White House plan, communities that get subsidized air service would have to kick in to help cover the cost. Cities less than 100 miles from a large or medium hub airport or 75 miles from a small hub could get federal help, but only for ground transportation, such as shuttle buses, to take people to a larger airport. […]
The cost to provide rural air service has quadrupled over the past decade. Several communities reported subsidies per passenger of more than $300 last year. At the same time, ridership has fallen in part because of the emergence of discount airlines that have made the drive to a larger airport financially worthwhile.
However, the service is more than just a convenience for local residents. Out-of-the-way communities depend on the airlines to speed up delivery of mail and supplies – and there’s the economic-development aspect, as well. […]
The arguments for cutting these services sound a lot like the arguments for cutting support for Amtrak. The problem is that both arguments fail to acknowledge an entire set of subsidies that go to airlines, roads, bridges, etc.