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Sullivan, Hirono Fight Proposed Cuts to Essential Air Service; Introduce Legislation to Extend Expiring Funding

Program Ensures Air Service to Rural Alaska and Hawaii Communities


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U.S. SENATE –  After the release of President Trump’s budget request, Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) introduced the Keeping Our Commitment to Essential Air Service (EAS) Act to prevent proposed budget cuts to air service for more than 170 small community airports nationwide by reauthorizing program funding through 2022.  

“Aviation is absolutely essential to reaching the many remote communities across Alaska’s vast, geographically diverse territory,” said Senator Sullivan. “Essential Air Service provides the only means of transportation for residents in more than 60 Alaska communities—more than one-third of the communities served nationwide. There are no roads or highways connecting these Americans to the rest of the country—just an airstrip. We must work to maintain this strong and safe aviation network which supports jobs and economic opportunities for Americans living in rural areas.”

“Serving approximately 20,000 people in Hawaii last year alone, EAS provides reliable and affordable air transportation that is vital to the communities like Kalaupapa and Waimea. President Trump’s deep cuts to EAS would critically impact individuals in these communities who depend on air travel to get the health care they need and support local commerce and jobs,” said Senator Hirono. “This is why I introduced this bill with Senator Sullivan-- helping to ensure our rural residents and their families continue to have access to air service which is their lifeline.” 

Congress established EAS to ensure that small communities that were served by air carriers before deregulation of the industry in the 1970s would continue to receive scheduled passenger service, with subsidies if necessary. However, President Trump’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget proposal would eliminate this funding for the program which could force rural airports to suspend service.

The EAS Act was introduced with the following original cosponsors: Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). 

“As an island state, air travel is critical to our economy and our daily lives,” said Senator Schatz. “Our bill protects funding that will help maintain air travel servicing Kalaupapa and Waimea.”

“Essential Air Service is a lifeline for many communities in rural Alaska. Bringing vital air service to small communities, this program is critical for the health, welfare, and safety of a state like Alaska with such a limited road system. I will never stop fighting to protect this program – truly an essential part of many Alaskans’ everyday life,” said Senator Murkowski.  

Under President Trump’s budget, EAS would lose $175 million of funding currently appropriated by Congress in addition to amounts funded through overflight fees. This cut represent over half of EAS total funding. The EAS Act reauthorizes the Congressional appropriation of $175 million annually through FY 2022. EAS funding is currently set to expire on September 30, 2017.

 

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