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