I didn’t expect this.
DOT says airlines can cut Essential Air Service flights and will still get paid 50 percent for removed trips, as long as they continue to meet certain thresholds of service (one round trip a day, six days per week) and communities don't object.https://t.co/mLbVWs9GXU
— Sam Mintz (@samjmintz) April 29, 2020
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.