Rahall Fights to Defend Air Service to Rural Communities
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), Democratic leader of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, today fought to defend critical Federal funding that helps link rural communities to our Nation’s aviation system. Speaking at a Subcommittee on Aviation hearing on the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Rahall called on Congress to keep the commitment made in 1978 with the creation of the Essential Air Service (EAS) program to ensure all Americans have access to air travel.
“Essential Air Service links rural communities to the global system of commerce. It carries their goods. It brings families together. And it creates and sustains local jobs,” said Rahall. “Rural communities have literally grown up around EAS, and Congress must ensure the program remains viable and successful.”
As part of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, Congress created the EAS program to distribute Federal subsidies to air carriers for providing air service to and from selected small communities that would not, absent the subsidies, receive service.
EAS subsidies this year totaling approximately $7.9 million fund critical air service between four West Virginia communities – Beckley, Clarksburg, Morgantown, and Parkersburg – and major airline hubs, including Washington-Dulles, through which West Virginians have timely access to the Nation’s Capital and to U.S. and global destinations. Some in Congress have called for elimination of the EAS program.
“Repeal of the program would cut a lifeline that helps sustain more than 150 small communities. Such a proposal would endanger local jobs and would harm the way of life in small towns that depend on the EAS program,” said Rahall. “When a government program works so well for so many people who depend on it – and delivers an excellent return on investment – we should work to preserve that program and to ensure its continued success. To reap the job-sustaining benefits of EAS for rural America, we must maintain the program in a fiscally responsible manner.”
Below are Rahall’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery:
The Honorable Nick J. Rahall
Subcommittee on Aviation
Hearings on “Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization: The FAA Administrator”
“Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization: Stakeholders”
February 8-9, 2011
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member, Mr. Costello, for holding this hearing and for your commitment to the passage of a long-term bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
In my view, we must enact a bill that not only will modernize our aging air traffic control system and airport infrastructure, but also will create and protect jobs. Last year’s bipartisan work to get a bill done shows that we all share the same goal: to keep modernization on time and on course, while creating and protecting jobs. Congress came very close to enacting a job-creating, bipartisan bill last year that would have met that goal, and I have every confidence that, working together, we will wind up this year with a bill that keeps our air transportation system and our economy moving forward.
I would like to focus my remarks on ensuring that Congress keeps the promise it made to rural communities in 1978, when it deregulated the airline industry. In the Airline Deregulation Act we sent a message to people in those communities that the Nation’s aviation system was not just for part of America, but for all of America, and Congress committed to fund essential air service (EAS) to maintain those communities’ links to the larger aviation system.
My home state of West Virginia has four communities that are eligible for EAS this year. EAS links these communities to the global system of commerce. It carries their goods. It brings families together. And it creates and sustains local jobs. Rural communities have literally grown up around EAS, and Congress must ensure the program remains viable and successful.
I was disappointed to learn last week that Senator McCain apparently wants to go back on Congress’s promise to people in small communities and to repeal the EAS program. Repeal of the program would cut a lifeline that helps sustain more than 150 small communities. Senator McCain’s proposal would endanger local jobs and would harm the way of life in small towns that depend on the EAS program. When a government program works so well for so many people who depend on it – and delivers an excellent return on investment – we should work to preserve that program and to ensure its continued success.
To reap the job-sustaining benefits of EAS for rural America, we must maintain the program in a fiscally responsible manner. I look forward to working with you, Mr. Chairman, to think creatively about improving the EAS program and providing robust EAS funding in this legislation. I look forward to continuing Congress’ unwavering, bipartisan commitment to EAS.
Now, I do not invoke the names of Wilbur and Orville lightly, but I can’t help but wonder what they would think of the flying experience today. I think Wilbur and Orville would be pleased with the progress we have made. But I think that they, as innovators and inventors, would challenge us to go further, to stay focused on how to modernize our system and keep it running on time and on course.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.