In the wake of airline deregulation in 1978, the Essential Air Service program was created to guarantee small communities that had been served by airlines would still have minimal scheduled air service. Under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, the subsidy from the Department of Transportation would be eliminated. That is raising concern at airports across the region that rely on the program.
The proposed budget would cut $175 million from the federal Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service, or EAS, effectively eliminating the program. Eligible airports must be more than 210 miles from the nearest large or medium hub airport. Commuter airlines are granted two-year contracts in about 140 rural communities across the country. In New York’s North Country air passenger service could end at several airports if the budget cut is approved as proposed.
If the program ends, Massena Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray says there will be no passenger air service from the Massena International Airport. “There are not a lot of regional carriers, people that are willing to fly from more rural areas. So you have to first of all find an airline that’s willing to fly that market. But then number two that airline has to be able to provide an affordable ticket. That is the reason that it is necessary. But this isn’t the first time someone’s come after the EAS subsidy. It’s called Essential Air Service for a reason. It is indeed essential. This subsidy isn’t a waste of money. It’s essential to allow residents of rural areas access to the greater air travel market.”
PennAir operates subsidized flights from the Plattsburgh International Airport to Boston. Airport manager Chris Kreig explains that while two other airlines operate at the terminal PennAir is the only one that provides connecting flights to the national air transportation system. Kreig says that’s crucial for business. “One of the components to the current and future economic growth that’s as we bring in businesses ideally they want access to fly either employees or personnel in or out of the community to support their businesses. And companies look at that. I’ve had conversations with companies that potentially want to come up here and they’re looking for that ease of access into the community, into the region if they’re going to be conducting business up here. So certainly there’s an economic component to it and we certainly don’t want to lose that.”
Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism President Jim McKenna believes that proposed cuts to the Essential Air Service would impact the number of visitors to the Adirondacks. “We have to look at northern New York as one unit here. If EAS is eliminated the five airports that serve commercial interests north of Syracuse and north of Albany would all be affected and it would literally cut our region off from having any source of commercial air traffic in and out. And you look at Plattsburgh, you look at Massena, Ogdensburg, Watertown, and Adirondack Regional in Saranac Lake it’s got a pretty big impact for us. It’s going to have an effect on the car rental agencies, lodging industry, services, right down the line when we cut those things off.”
Airports in Jamestown, Ogdensburg, Saranac Lake and Watertown also depend on the Essential Air Service program.
New York Senator Charles Schumer has called the proposed cut “reckless and counterproductive.”