Air America: Federal Government Spending $200 Million in Subsidies For “Essential Air Service”

While Congress is rolling back on scientific and environmental programs, it is continuing to spend $200 million in subsidies to pay for people to fly in nearly empty planes from remote airfields under the Essential Air Service program. Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are planning to kill the 200-year-old page system to save $5 million, but they supported this continuing program costing almost a quarter of a billion dollars. In some cases, a coach ticket cost the taxpayers over $4000 in subsidies.

Take flights out of Ely, Nevada. The Great Lakes Airlines flight to Las Vegas on this occasion carried just one passenger. In total, only 227 passengers flew out of Ely in the entire year of 2010 — paying 70-90 dollars. The taxpayers however paid $4,107 per ticket.

In Jackson, Tenn., the subsidy is less: $244 for each of the 2,514 people who flew out of the airport last year. Yet, the subsidy makes it worth to fly empty planes. Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation supports the current funding.

Faye Malarkey Black, a vice president for the Regional Airline Association, is quoted as saying “They call it essential for a reason . . . If you take away air service, who wants to live in those communities?” Well, isn’t that the point. When you move to a town, you have to consider a variety of factors, including transportation. In that way, people tend to congregate in areas with reduced travel costs or factor in the higher travel costs into their budgets. The question is why the government should subsidize folks living in remote areas at a higher energy and transportation costs. This is similar to the federal subsidies or protections offered to folks living on flood plains who are repeatedly washed out in hurricanes.

What do you think?

Source: Mail

31 thoughts on “Air America: Federal Government Spending $200 Million in Subsidies For “Essential Air Service””

  1. Elaine, our small municipal airport is home to the medical center helicopter fleet. It serves the medical center and medical school. The medical center is the hub for a number of satellite hospitals in the area. The main office and terminal building has an apartment in the back, similar to what you would find in a well-equipped fire station. Like firemen, the medical flight crews live there in shifts lasting several days at a time. They can get to the helicopter right outside the door and be airborne in less time than it took to write this paragraph. To me, this is a model for the way it should be done.

    One of the helicopters has landed in the next door neighbor’s front yard to evacuate auto crash victims. Our family has a deep appreciation for these crews. Their skill and dedication is legendary around here.

  2. My point about those cars is that the Commission expects Deputies to respond to emergencies, often having to drive well in excess of the posted speed limit, in cars that are actually dangerous to drive. We lost two deputies a couple of years ago when they lost control of a car that should have been retired. The Commission is more concerned about not spending any money than they are of governing.

  3. “Then, if the airports are really a good deal for local communities, the local communities should not have a problem funding them for at least the fear of losing business to other communities.”


    Ever been to a meeting of a rural county commission. The Sheriff has patrol cars that are held together with spit, bubble gum and bailing wire. A large percentage of the Sheriff’s department cars have more than 225,000 miles on them. The county fights him on every budget request.

    Given that mentality, we could prove that the airport brings in twenty million a year and they will still vote down a request for a $100,000 repaving job so our biggest employer’s jet can land here. Our county commission is made up of self-described fiscal conservatives. In truth they are the poster children for the proverb, “Penny wise and pound foolish.” Local funding will simply not work. The funds are there in the Trust Fund and that is exactly the kind of project the Fund was created to take care of. It has worked well, once the Feds actually turned loose of the money several years ago. For years a huge amount of money languished in the Trust Fund because no one wanted to take the responsibility for actually spending it–it was tied up by politics. That repaving and runway extension project did not send money to the middle east. It went to local contractors, who in turn spent it to pay their bills and buy groceries….locally.

  4. That’s a good reason for federal regulation, but not necessarily federal subsidies. If you want airports to maintain their runways and taxiways and control systems, then this can easily be accomplished by setting minimum safety standards as part of the regulatory scheme. Then, if the airports are really a good deal for local communities, the local communities should not have a problem funding them for at least the fear of losing business to other communities.

  5. Airports are part of the interstate commerce network. Without the input of Trust Fund monies, the local county government people would simply not fund them. Our county commissioners are no better or no worse than average across the country, but if you bring up repaving or lengthening a runway, their eyes glaze over. And if you talk about installing a new VASI or Unicom system, they will run you out of their office.

    Users pay for the Trust Fund, and should reap the benefits. If I pay for a toll road, I damn sure want the outfit taking the toll keeping it upgraded. This is a similar situation.

  6. I’m wondering what impact the elimination of these subsidies might have on small airports and on medical emergency flights. One of my former teaching colleagues was a volunteer pilot for Angel Flight NE. She flew out of our local airport.

    Angel Flight NE

    From the website:
    Since Angel Flight Northeast’s first flight in 1996, our mission coordinators have scheduled more than 45,000 flights and our 1,000+ Volunteer Pilots have flown over 9 million miles providing nearly 60,000 patients and their families free air transportation to medical care. As well, our 200+ Earth Angels are there to greet the patients and their families with open arms and transport them to and from their destinations. All of this would not be possible without the dedication of our Volunteer Pilots and Earth Angels along with the generosity of our donors and supporters.

  7. “This is one reason any cost-benefit analysis will show just why studies estimate the average small airport can create millions in income for a community.”

    They probably do. But, this might then be a good reason why communities should be the ones paying for the expense and reaping the ensuing benefits.

    I do think that this whole matter can be safely pushed down to the state level at least. Maybe lower. Our community routinely floats multi-million dollar bonds to pay for things like new schools and government buildings, why not for the airport as well?

  8. I am wondering if Capt. Erb was referring to larger corporations when he made his comment. Perhaps he will clarify what he meant by “most.” I will say that larger corporations do tend to have their own corporate aircraft, and close proximity to an airport is essential to business. One of the first things a major corporation looks at when selecting a site for building a factory or other large business is the proximity of an airport. This is one reason any cost-benefit analysis will show just why studies estimate the average small airport can create millions in income for a community.

    The Aviation Trust Fund has been helping smaller airports upgrade so they can handle small corporate jets. Our own small town airport has been one of those beneficiaries. The result has caused it to become a secondary hub, and on any day you go out there, you are likely to see a couple of jets or turboprops parked on the ramp in front of the FBO. We do not have any commercial airline traffic–all that goes to the larger regional airport about thirty miles away.

  9. Yeah, I don’t really have an issue with the Aviation Trust Fund either. (Mostly because I know so little about it.) Airports, like roads, are essential infrastructure.

  10. I am with Kderosa on this one. I doubt seriously that “most” businessmen or corporations own their own plane. The data are easy to gather. On the State Secretary of State website I can look up how many corporations there are in our area, then go out to our regional airport and count the airplanes. Numbers do not even come close to matching. We used to own our corporate twin, but it got to the point that expenses far exceeded the justification for owning. It is cheaper to rent than to own. Another problem is that it takes a LOT of practice to stay proficient on instruments. With the cost of 100 octane low lead avgas well past $6 per gallon and heading out of sight, it makes one pause to even shoot a few landings on a Sunday afternoon. For a corporate airplane to be useful, the pilot has to be current on instruments. Not just legally current, but proficient.

    However, Capt. Erb is correct that the funding comes from the Aviation Trust Fund and not from general revenues. Every gallon of gas and every airline ticket has a tariff on it that goes into the Trust Fund. The Trust Fund has been a lifesaver for many small airports, allowing them to upgrade runways and navigation equipment. Those upgrades are essential to the continuing life blood of general aviation in this country.

    General aviation is quite different from the commercial airlines. We are talking about your next door neighbor who owns a small plane that cost no more than your late model car. I saw some figures a while back from AOPA that reported the average general aviation airport creates about five million dollars a year for the local economy it serves.

  11. “For example, most passengers are NOT businessmen or corporations since they have their own aircraft.”

    Almost all businessmen I know do not have their own company aircraft, so where is this stat coming from?

  12. I suggest that people read how this is funded. It is funded by the Airport and Aviation Trust fund, NOT general revenue. So every person who uses aviation in any way pays a Federal tax which goes into this fund. The real funding is thus borne by the users of aviation who subsidize this part of aviation. It levels out the aviation costs so that smaller communities are not cut off from service.

    The costs are also overstated since the subsidies are only noted and not the costs of the airfare paid. The figures that are mostly given run to about tens of millions rather than the higher figures. Also most of there communities need such service since they are far from major cities and in many cases in winter, are the only reliable means of transportation to get in or out. This has other costs which are not noted. For example, most passengers are NOT businessmen or corporations since they have their own aircraft. The passengers are the ordinary people who do not own or have access to personal aircraft. This has a practical side since many of those users are people who are medical cases and need transportation for that reason. It is far cheaper to provide a subsidy than to charter a medical evac flight. To contrast the costs of the page to that of essential air service is simply wrong since there are many other items that can be cut better than this essential service.

  13. When one talks of “Pork” in the budget, this is a perfect example. You could spend far less subsiding bus services, which would be more economical. If indeed it is the Federal Governments business, rather than the business of the States involved. As for Frank’s comment re: congresspeople, I would add “follow the money.”

  14. My small town doesn’t really need its airport, which recently lost its subsidies, except that winter rains cut off this whole region, with about 30K residents, when all the roads flood, get washed out, or are blocked by mudslides.

  15. If the choice is between cutting social security and/or medicare, then this one is a no brainer. Cut it. Rural businessmen don’t need their airfare subsidized.

  16. From my limited understanding of this issue, I have been told in the past that the program is hand in hand with the local mail service. Not sure if that continues to be true.

  17. The idea is to ensurer air service to cities that will suffer economically without it. I wonder how many communities that are benefiting from this plan elect Congressthings that rail against “government socialism”.

    Ending the program will further impoverish rural America but that does seem to be what everyone wants these days.

  18. Look if we are going to have Armed Thugs at the Airports…we might as well be uniform in the Thuggery….

    Do it like the Israelis…it is person specific…then all’s you need is one or two alert guard….

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