Saving Essential Air Service

By Libby Caseyhalf

Senator John McCain is trying to kill the federal program that subsidizes flights in rural Alaska.  The Arizona Republican is floating an amendment to eliminate the Essential Air Service program. 

The Essential Air Service program helped bear the cost last year of air travel and shipments in 44 Alaskan communities to a tune of $12.5-


A handful of Democrats are fighting Senator McCain’s effort, including Alaskan Senator Mark Begich.  Begich and a trio from West Virginia, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania are circulating a letter to McCain supporting the E-A-S program.

Begich says the Arizona Republican “lacks understanding” of its importance to Alaska.

His view is we’ve got to do something on spending, which I 100% agree with, but you also have to recognize air transportation to communities like rural Alaska, where this is the only way to move goods in, people in, it helps keep the cost down to make it affordable for communities to survive.  I think is important.  And it’s a small expenditure out of almost a 4 trillion dollar budget.

The program’s annual cost nationally is about $200-million.  Begich says there may be room for tweaking the communities that receive the funding, but he says if that’s done, while some Lower 48 communities might be dropped from the list, there are more Alaskan communities that want to get on it.

Begich says McCain and other Republicans should turn their attention to big-picture cuts and spending rather than the Essential Air Service.

To now single out neediest parts of country is a huge mistake.  I mean, if they wouldn’t have insisted on $74-billion over next 2 yeas to give millionaires in tax breaks, guess what, this would be a nothing issue.

McCain isn’t alone in his push to throw out the program.  Some House Republicans also say it should go as part of cost-cutting.  A conservative group called the Republican Study Committee is targeting it.  And House Republicans said Thursday that they want to slash $30-billion from federal spending, far more than the White House is calling for… which will likely mean cuts to programs throughout different agencies.

Alaskan House Republican Don Young helped get the Essential Air Service program started 30 years ago after deregulation of the airline industry.  He says he’ll defend it in the House, while the Alaskan Senators do so in their body.

It’s a classic example of grandstanding without understanding and balancing the budget.  Why balance the budget on the backs of people who do not have another way of surface transportation.   So I’m hoping that Mark Begich Senator Begich and Senator Murkowski can tell McCain to go fly a kite and not have enough votes for it.

Congressman Young has harsh words for Senator McCain:

You know the guy’s got a screw loose, he always has had.  I’ll be right up front with you on that.  He doesn’t understand ESA is in fact the replacement of the highways in rural areas of Alaska and the rural areas of the Midwest and those areas.

Senator McCain’s office did not return requests for comment.  His amendment would need 60 votes for it to go anywhere.  He’s bringing it up as part of the Federal Aviation Administration re-authorization, which is now before the Senate.

Alaskan communities the Essential Air Service aids range from Cordova and Yakutat, which each got more than 2 million dollars last year… to Funter Bay in southeast which got less than 10 thousand.



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