Bill in House may save flights to ru­ral ar­eas

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Jesse Paul

The fed­eral Es­sen­tial Air Ser­vice pro­gram, which sub­si­dizes flights be­tween small towns and hub air­ports in Colorado and across the U.S., was fully funded in a bill drafted in the U.S. House, eas­ing fears that the ini­tia­tive could be cut un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bud­get slash­ing.

Jen­nifer Hing, a spokes­woman for the House Com­mit­tee on Ap­pro­pri­a­tions, said the leg­is­la­tion would grant the nearly 40year-old pro­gram $150 mil­lion — the same as it got last year — for fis­cal year 2018. Com­bined with $119 mil­lion from fees, the to­tal fund­ing level for the pro­gram would be $269 mil­lion, or $6 mil­lion more than it got last year, she said.

The fund­ing bill was cre­ated in the ap­pro­pri­a­tions panel’s sub­com­mit­tee on trans­porta­tion, hous­ing and ur­ban de­vel­op­ment. It is set to come be­fore the full com­mit­tee for a vote Mon­day night.

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers — like Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Cory Gard­ner and U.S. Rep. Scott Tip­ton of Cortez — and the small towns and air car­ri­ers that rely on the pro­gram, pushed back against ef­forts to cut Es­sen­tial Air Ser­vice fund­ing. They said the pro­gram is vi­tal for com­mu­ni­ties that oth­er­wise would have lit­tle to no link to the out­side world.

“Af­ter re­quest­ing that House ap­pro­pri­a­tors pro­tect the Es­sen­tial Air Ser­vice from dis­pro­por­tion­ate cuts in 2018, Con­gress­man Tip­ton is pleased that the com­mit­tee has rec­og­nized the im­por­tance of this pro­gram to ru­ral Amer­ica and main­tained its crit­i­cal fund­ing,” said Liz Payne, a spokes­woman for Tip­ton.

Es­sen­tial Air Ser­vice, cre­ated in 1978 to main­tain flights to small towns af­ter the air­line in­dus­try was dereg­u­lated and car­ri­ers be­gan set­ting their own ticket prices and routes, has been one of many pro­grams fac­ing bil­lions of dol­lars in cuts in Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s pro­posed 2018 feder-

al bud­get.

In its fed­eral bud­get pro­posal, the White House noted that the air ser­vice cre­ated in 1978 was in­tended to be tem­po­rary and has a high per-pas­sen­ger sub­sidy. It also con­tends that peo­ple in af­fected com­mu­ni­ties are rel­a­tively close to larger air­ports and could use other modes of trans­porta­tion.

The pro­gram has fre­quently been on the fed­eral bud­get chop­ping block but has man­aged stay afloat.

Den­ver In­ter­na­tional Air­port has the most Es­sen­tial Air des­ti­na­tions of any hub in the con­ti­nen­tal U.S., serv­ing 22 ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties across Colorado, Utah, Ari­zona, Wy­oming, Kansas, Ne­braska and the Dako­tas. Cortez, Alam­osa and Pue­blo are the Colorado towns ser­viced by EAS.

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