Service to Athens airport in jeopardy

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The outcome of a partisan battle in Congress over federal aviation funding could determine whether commercial flights continue to fly in and out of Athens.

A Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill the U.S. House of Representatives passed July 15 would eliminate $12.5 million in Essential Air Service grants for 10 rural airports -- including Athens-Ben Epps -- that are within 90 miles of a major airport.

It would also cut grants for three other communities where EAS subsidies are more than $1,000 per passenger.

"The Essential Air Service provisions included in the extension are limited reforms that target the most indefensible of the subsidies," House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri, R-Wis., said in a news release. "We in Congress are trying to find a way forward on addressing our deficit and long-term debt issues, but if we can't put an end to these extravagant subsidies, then we will never be able to rein in spending where really hard decisions are necessary."

The Senate approved a similar bill in February, but now Democrats are vowing not to pass the House version, meaning the FAA was headed for a partial shutdown Friday, when its current authorization expired at midnight. Without reauthorization, the agency will be forced to furlough 4,000 of its 47,000 workers and delay $2.5 billion in airport construction projects, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said.

The FAA has been operating on a series of 20 short-term extensions since 2007.

LaHood and Democrats in the Senate say they want a "clean" vote on reauthorization without the EAS cuts or other changes, which should be dealt with separately.

Negotiations are ongoing, said Lauren Culbertson, a spokeswoman for Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., but she was not sure when an agreement might be reached.

The EAS program, created during airline deregulation in the 1970s, subsidizes commercial air service in small markets where it would not otherwise be profitable. If House Republicans win out, commercial airlines might refuse to serve communities that lose the subsidy.

Airport Manager Tim Beggerly said he is not sure whether commercial flights would continue at Athens-Ben Epps without EAS, but he does not think the program will be eliminated entirely.

"I expect that they're going to revise the program," Beggerly said. "I don't expect it to go away like the House proposed in this FAA reauthorization bill. That's kind of harsh."

Georgia Skies receives $1.1 million per year from the U.S. Department of Transportation to subsidize 12 flights per week between Athens-Ben Epps and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The airline carried 271 passengers in August, the last month when Georgia Skies reported enplanements, Beggerly said.

Greg Kahlstorf, CEO of Georgia Skies' parent company, Pacific Wings, would not say whether he would pull out of Athens if he lost his EAS grant.

If Georgia Skies left, Athens-Clarke officials would try to recruit another carrier that is willing to operate without a subsidy, Beggerly said.

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Sparky1579 07/23/11 - 01:51 pm
Athens is not that far from

Athens is not that far from Atlanta this is an expense we the taxpayers could do without. It is time we started spending the taxpayers money a little more wisely and on things that are actually needed. Under deregulation we lost air traffic controllers and the checks and balances that were needed for safe air travel. It is time to regulate again and rein in the excessive spending that has been going on. This includes the banking industry and the Federal Reserve which is not a part of the Federal Government or the Treasury Department.

Taylor B
Taylor B 07/23/11 - 03:28 pm
Spot on sparky

Spot on sparky

Asitisinaug 07/23/11 - 05:08 pm
12.5 MILLION Per Year to

12.5 MILLION Per Year to service 10 rural airports such as Athens that have a major airport nearby is absolutely absurd.

For anyone to approve over 1 million per year per rural airport is insane. Basically, we the US taxpayer are subsidizing every single person flying into these airports over $1,000.00 per person, per flight.

ALL of these programs, subsidies, and non-essential needs must be cut completely no matter which party is supportive of the spending.

If the airport is needed then it should be funded by those using it, not the federal taxpayers.

It's not surprising that one of the biggest defenders of the program is Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over FAA legislation. One of the airports that would lose subsidies is in Morgantown, W.Va.

When will these idiotic politicians get it?

Not suprising,

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 07/23/11 - 06:04 pm
Federal subsidies to

Federal subsidies to low-population airports are just as immoral as federal subsidies to corn ethanol programs. End both now!

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