On April 29, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a notice allowing airlines to reduce Essential Air Service (EAS) flights and still receive partial funding provided through the EAS program. Airlines are able to receive 50 percent of the per-flight amount for flights that are not operated, as long as they complete at least one trip a day, six days a week to one of the 160 communities which receive subsidize services through the EAS program. The policy is in effect through June 30.
The EAS program was established to ensure that small and rural community airports served by air carriers prior to P.L. 95-504, the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, maintain a minimal level of scheduled air service that is often vital to local and regional economies. The EAS program is a long-standing NACo priority, as counties are involved in the operation of 34 percent of public airports – many of whom rely on the EAS and the incentives it provides airlines to continue service to small and rural airports. The program assists airlines to serve rural and remote communities by connecting smaller, regional airports to larger transportation hubs. Currently, 160 eligible communities receive subsidized EAS service; a complete list of communities is available here.
Authorized under P.L. 115-254, the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018, and funded through P.L. 116-94, the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, the EAS program is funded at $162 million for FY 2020. An additional $56 million in emergency funding was allocated to the program through P.L. 116-136, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Additionally, NACo is advocating for the program to be fully funded in FY 2021.
Importantly, communities can object to an airline’s request to temporarily end service should it wish to do so. The notice provides individual docket numbers for EAS communities that may be used to respond to DOT, who has pledged to work with communities on a case-by-case basis to resolve any service concerns. NACo will continue to monitor DOT’s waiver of EAS requirements to ensure small and rural airports have access to critical air service.