Essential Air Service Program

Author: Brad Van Dam, (703) 824-0504         

 

What’s at Issue?

Congress created the Essential Air Service (EAS) program as part of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 in an effort to ensure that smaller communities would continue to receive air service.  The Department of Transportation (DOT), which currently administers the program, provides subsidies to carriers willing to provide service to eligible EAS communities. 

 

Congress has made numerous changes to the EAS program during the past 20 years.  The FY94 Transportation Appropriations bill, for instance, established criteria to limit the number of communities that are eligible to participate in the EAS program.  As a result, communities are not eligible to receive subsidized air service if they are within 70 driving miles of a medium- or large-hub airport or if their per passenger subsidy exceeds $200 (unless they are more than 210 driving miles from the nearest medium- or large-hub). 

 

Over the years, communities that have participated in the EAS program and the carriers that provided service to them often complained about unpredictable funding levels for the program.  In 1996, Congress addressed that concern by passing an FAA Reauthorization bill that guaranteed $50 million would be available for the EAS program every year.  Funding for the program increased from $37 million in FY95 to $113 million in FY03.  According to the General Accounting Office, the subsidy per community nearly doubled from $424,000 to $828,000 during that time period. 

 

Why is it Important to Airports?

As of February 1, DOT is providing subsidies to carriers serving approximately 125 communities.  About 37 of those communities are in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Without federal assistance, proponents argue that it is unlikely that small communities participating in the EAS program would be able to retain scheduled commercial air service.  They point out that people residing in less populated areas deserve access to the air transportation system and that commercial air service is critical to economic development.

 

Status

Administration's FY04 Budget Request:  In February, the Administration released its budget request for FY04 which proposes drastic cuts in funding for the EAS program.  Specifically, the president's plan would require communities to pay either a 10 percent or 25 percent match for federal funds used to subsidize air service.  On top of that, the Administration is requesting only $50 million for the program -- $63 million less than Congress approved for FY03.

 

FY03 Omnibus Appropriations Bill:  The FY03 Omnibus Appropriations bill, which Congress passed on February 13 and the president signed into law on February 20, includes $113 million for the Essential Air Service Program.  Of that amount, $52.1 million is direct appropriations from the general fund, $50 million is to be derived from overflight fees and $10.9 million is to be derived from carryover funds.    

 

AAAE/ACI-NA Legislative Affairs Actions

AAAE and ACI-NA have voiced their strong opposition to the Administration's efforts in FY03 and FY04 to make drastic cuts in the Essential Air Service Program.  The following includes some of the letters that ACI-NA and AAAE have sent to Congress and some of the statements that the two associations have submitted to various committees requesting funds for the program: 

 

On March 6, 2003, ACI-NA President David Plavin and AAAE President Chip Barclay urged the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Aviation to reject the Administration's proposal to cut funding for EAS.  A copy of the testimony may be viewed at: http://airportnet.org/depts/federal/testimony/030303faareauth.pdf.

 

On February 25, 2003, ACI-NA President David Plavin urged the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation to reject the Administration's proposal to cut funding for EAS.  A copy of the testimony may be viewed at:  http://airportnet.org/depts/federal/testimony/022103faareauth.pdf.

 

On December 18, 2002, Plavin and Barclay sent a letter to House and Senate Appropriations Committee members requesting funding for the Essential Air Service Program in the FY03 DOT Appropriations bill.  A copy of the letter may be viewed at:

http://airportnet.org/depts/federal/letters/2002Conferees.pdfhttp://airportnet.org/depts/federal/letters/1217PrioritiesLetter.pdf

 

In March 2002, Plavin and Barclay urged the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation to approved full funding for the Essential Air Service Program in the FY03 DOT Appropriations.  A copy of the testimony may be at:  http://airportnet.org/depts/federal/testimony/AppropsFY2003.pdf.

 

The letter that Plavin and Barclay sent to Senate Appropriations Committee members on July 11, 2001, requesting funding for the Essential Air Service Program and the organization's other priorities for the FY02 DOT Appropriations bill may be viewed at:

http://airportnet.org/depts/federal/letters/senateapprops.pdf.

 

The statement that Plavin and Barclay submitted to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation on April 6, 2001, requesting funding for the Essential Air Service Program and the organization's other priorities for the FY02 DOT Appropriations bill may be viewed at: http://airportnet.org/depts/federal/testimony/040601.pdf.

 

Related Links

So far this year, the AAAE/ACI-NA Legislative Affairs Department has issued the following Airport Alerts and Hearing Reports regarding funding for the Small Community Air Service Development Pilot Program: 

 

     Volume 4, Number 11 - March 12, 2003, Small and Rural Community Air Service

    

     Volume 4, Number 10 - March 7, 2003, FAA Reauthorization Bill

 

     Volume 9, Number 17 - March 6,  2003, FAA Reauthorization Hearing

 

     Volume 4, Number 9 - February 25, 2003, FAA Reauthorization Bill

 

     Volume 9, Number 15 - February 24, 2003, President Signs Omnibus Spending Bill into      Law

 

     Volume 9, Number 11 - February 13, 2003, Airports Win Big in Omnibus

 

     Volume 4, Number 7 -  February 13, 2003, Reauthorization Bill

 

     Volume 9, Number 8  - February 3, 2003, Details on FY04 Budget Request

 

     Volume 9, Number 5 - January 24, 2003, Senate Passes Omnibus Appropriations Bill for      FY 2003

 

During 2001-2002, the AAAE/ACI-NA Legislative Affairs Department issued the following Airport Alerts regarding funding for the EAS program. 

 

     Volume 8, Number 153 - FAA Reauthorization Bill Survey

 

     Volume 8, Number 150 - AAAE/ACI-NA Letter to Hill Urges More Airport Funding

 

     Volume 8, Number 149 - FAA Reauthorization Bill Survey

 

     Volume 8, Number 124 - House Committee Begins Action on DOT Spending Bill, Airports Poised to do Well

 

     Volume 8, Number 96 - Senate Appropriations Committee Approves FY03    Transportation Spending Bill

 

     Volume 8, Number 93 - Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee Approves      FY03 Transportation Spending Bill

 

     Volume 8, Number 82 - Weekend Update—FY02 Supplemental, FY03 DOT Bill,      Homeland Security

 

     Volume 8, Number 9 - FY 2003 Airport Appropriations Priorities

 

     Volume 8, Number 7 - Fiscal Year 2003 Budget Request

 

     Volume 8, Number 4 - President Releases FY03 Budget Request

                                                                                                                         

     Volume 7, Number 193 - Senate Approves DOD Appropriations Bill – Funding for      Reimbursement/EAS

 

     Volume 7, Number 192 - House Approves Reimbursement and EAS Funds

 

     Volume 7, Number 189 - President Signs Transportation Spending Bill

 

     Volume 7, Number 188 - Supplemental Includes Reimbursement and EAS Funds!!!

 

     Volume 7, Number 187 - Reimbursement for Security Costs Update

 

     Volume 7, Number 186 - Essential Air Service Update

    

     Volume 7, Number 182 - Senate Approves FY02 DOD Appropriations Bill

 

     Volume 7, Number 181 - DOD Approps Bill, Airport Reimbursement Update

 

     Volume 7, Number 180 - Calls to Senators Needed – Last Chance for Security      Reimbursement

 

     Volume 7, Number 179 - Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Additional    Funding for Airports

 

     Volume 7, Number 178 - Senate Approves FY02 DOT Conference Report

 

     Volume 7, Number 177 - Update on DOD and DOT Appropriations Bills

 

     Volume 7, Number 176 - House Approves Transportation Spending Bill

 

     Volume 7, Number 175 - Conferees Approve FY02 DOT Spending Bill – Great News for      Airports!

 

     Volume 7, Number 173 - FY02 DOT Spending Bill Deal

 

     Volume 7, Number 170 - Legislative Update at a Glance…..

 

     Volume 7, Number 153 - Legislative Update

 

     Volume 7, Number 135 - Letters on FY02 DOT Appropriations and Airport Bonds

 

     Volume 7, Number 70 - Senate Approves FY02 DOT Appropriations Bill

 

     Volume 7, Number 68 - Senate Invokes Cloture on Transportation Appropriations Bill

 

     Volume 7, Number 66 - Senate DOT Spending Bill Pulled From Floor

 

     Volume 7, Number 63 - Appropriations Update -- FY 02 DOT Spending Bill Stalled on      Senate Floor

 

     Volume 7, Number 57 - Senate Appropriations Committee Marks-Up FY02 Spending

 

     Volume 7, Number 56 - Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee Marks-Up      FY02 Spending

 

     Volume 7, Number 52 - House Passes FY02 DOT Appropriations Bill -- **Video Clips      Included**

 

     Volume 7, Number 51 - FY02 DOT Bill Hits the House Floor Tomorrow

 

     Volume 7, Number 49 - Full House Appropriations Committee Marks-Up FY02      Spending Bill

 

     Volume 7, Number 48 - House Transportation Appropriations Passes FY02 Spending Bill

 

     Volume 7, Number 47 - FY02 Transportation Appropriations Bill

 

     Volume 7, Number 32 - President Bush Releases FY02 Budget Request

 

     Volume 7, Number 22 - Identifying Airport Priorities in Fiscal Year 2002

 

Related Links

A copy of General Accounting Office report issued on August 30, 2002 entitled, "Options to Enhance the Long-term Viability of the Essential Air Service Program," may be viewed at:   GAO-02-997R.

 

On May 25, 2000, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation held a hearing to examine why the costs of the EAS program have been increasing and to learn how DOT will manage the program in the future.  The AAAE/ACI-NA hearing report may be viewed at: 

http://airportnet.org/depts/federal/Hearings/2000/hr0526b.htm.

 

A copy of a background memo on the EAS program that was prepared by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Staff may be viewed at: 

http://airportnet.org/depts/federal/eryn99/easbackground.pdf.

 

A copy of an April 2000 General Accounting Office report entitled, "Essential Air Service: Changes in Subsidy Levels, Air Carrier Costs, and Passenger Traffic," may be viewed at: 

http://airportnet.org/depts/federal/eryn99/easgao.pdf.

 

Additional background information on the EAS program that was prepared by the Department of Transportation may be viewed at:  

http://ostpxweb.dot.gov/aviation/rural/ruralair.htm.