Program Meant To Subsidize Flights To Small Communities Will Now Pay Airlines Not To Fly

I didn’t expect this.

The Essential Air Service program pays airlines to fly routes that aren’t economically viable. Now the program will pay airlines to not fly those same routes, as long as they maintain a minimum service level.

Created in the late 1970s as a temporary measure to soften the blow of deregulation, Essential Air Service it’s a perfect example of the old axiom that there’s nothing as permanent in life as a temporary government program. The legislation included a ’10 year transition’ period in which small community service could receive subsidies. This was supposed to end in 1988.

The program subsidizes flights to over 150 communities, a third of which are in Alaska. Most of the planes fly largely empty in normal times and the cost of the program per actual passenger can be over $900. In many cases the airports receiving subsidies are drivable to other airports where subsidies aren’t needed to sustain air service.

If you’re traveling out of Pueblo, Colorado you could just as easily drive to Colorado Springs to start your journey. Hot Springs, Arkansas is less than an hour from Little rock.

Decatur, Illinois is less than an hour from both Champaign and Springfield. It receives subsidized flights to St. Louis a mere 110 miles away by air. If passengers want to go to St. Louis they should drive. If passengers don’t want to fly out of Champaign or Springfield they should drive to St. Louis.

This program makes no sense in normal times, but paying airlines to not fly to small communities almost makes my head explode.

(HT: @crucker)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Funny, I have extensively written on this topic. Except in Alaska, EAS is a profligate waste of tax dollars-to subsidize flights deemed uneconomical without massive subsidies; how some cities use their facility/passenger fee to pay airlines for service; to market destinations for airlines. Recently, EAS would not pay subsidies over $250 per passenger. It would be cheaper too end those passengers on their way in a limo.

    Most of the continental U.S. airports are so close to a hub that EAS stands-out as a total waste. Decatur, IL is but 37 miles from Springfield, IL and 43 miles from Champaign, IL. (Note ADM moved its HQ out of Decatur to Chicago.) A while ago their was a national newspaper article on the waste it is for Hagerstown, MD to receive EAS funding when so close to a major hub (IAH).

    Despite population decline, thanks to Senator Schumer, numerous small towns in Upstate New York still on the dole for EAS funds.

    When Trump wants to start-up infrastructure, he can start to finance it by cutting the waste of EAS.

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