Empty airplanes criss-cross the West, with federal taxpayers largely subsidizing the flights under the Essential Air Program now targeted for cuts by Republicans in the latest Federal Aviation Administration bill.
The Associated Press reported Friday that in 2010, the government subsidized $4,107 for each one-way ticket on Great Lakes Airlines flights from Ely, Nev. The actual passengers paid between $70 and $90.
The $200 million Essential Air Program provides subsides to 153 airports, but House Republicans argued during debate over the latest FAA extension bill — passed only after the agency was shut down earlier this month — that 13 should be eliminated because most were within close driving distance of another airport with unsubsidized commercial jet service. The extension passed, though Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has the authority to reinstate the funding, the AP said.
Senate Democrats from states targeted to lose funding, like Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), protested the cuts, arguing that Republicans sought to eliminate all federal help for rural air traffic.
“I have been willing to consider options to reform and strengthen the program for much of the past decade,” Rockefeller said on the Senate floor. “I want a good EAS program for the country and rural America. I want communities that are bought in to making their air service a success.”
About one-third the federal program budget, $67.8 million, now goes to Wyoming-based Great Lakes Airlines, the AP reported. The federal government subsidizes more than $1,000 per ticket on its flights from Glendive, Mont., and Alamagordo, N.M.
Ely, more than 240 miles from the closest major airport in Salt Lake City, is the most remote commercial airport in the continental U.S., its airport manager told the AP. “We have no bus service here of any kind, no Greyhound or similar company,” Mike Coster said. “It’s a small town.”
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