White House Budget Calls for Elimination of Essential Air Services Subsidies

Critics say the program, enacted during the era of airline deregulation, is a waste of federal dollars.

Trump budget cuts
One of President Trump's proposed budget cuts is the $175 million Essential Air Service program that provides federal subsidies for commercial air service at rural airports.White House

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget trims billions of dollars from several high-profile programs and agencies, and big chunks of money from many more that most Americans have never heard of. One of the lesser-known domestic line items due for elimination is the $175 million Essential Air Services program that provides federal subsidies for commercial air service at rural airports.

EAS flights are rarely full and have high subsidy costs per passenger. The White House budget points out that several airports covered under the EAS are close to major airports, and that rural communities could be served by other modes of transportation.

The program, which came into being in 1978 during the period of airline deregulation, provides the only form of commercial air transportation to 60 communities in Alaska and 115 communities in the lower 48 states, according to the Department of Transportation.

Critics of the program have pointed out that several of the subsidized airports, such as those in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Pueblo, Colorado, and Muskegon, Michigan, among others, are within an hour’s drive to larger airports with unsubsidized airline service.

Several commuter airlines, including Boutique Air, Cape Air, SkyWest, American Eagle and others, would be negatively impacted by the program’s elimination.