ATLANTA — Federal officials are considering restoring a subsidy of more than $1 million to keep Atlanta-to-Macon passenger flights, despite the route’s 2011 average of about one person aboard each flight.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has collected proposals from two carriers to take over the 80-mile route under the “Essential Air Service” program, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The program subsidizes airline flights to smaller cities that might not have passenger air service otherwise.
GeorgiaSkies began flying the route under the subsidy program, then tried operating the flights without government help.
The flights didn’t operate more than 40 percent of the time in 2011 because they had no passengers or cargo, according to federal data.
In April, GeorgiaSkies told the DOT it plans to drop the business, prompting the agency to seek new operators.
Both carriers applying for the program think they can do better than GeorgiaSkies, which uses a nine-passenger, single-engine plane on the flights between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Middle Georgia Regional Airport.
Subsidies for air service in Macon and elsewhere have come under fire before, with critics questioning how much public money should be used to maintain routes. EAS money comes from taxes on airline tickets, aviation fuel and other
“I think Macon is an excellent example of the kind of waste and excess that’s present in the EAS program,” said Greg Kahlstorf, the chief executive of GeorgiaSkies. “The passenger traffic in that city has been declining for decades.”
City leaders in Macon want the service to continue as an option for people doing business.
Macon officials envision expanding their airport through cargo to become a transportation and logistics hub. As for commercial airline flights, “what we would want is a viable service to fly in and out of there, and to help grow that,” said Chris Floore, a spokesman for Macon Mayor Robert Reichert.
Other Georgia cities, such as Columbus, Savannah and Valdosta, have commercial air service.
The only other EAS market, however, is Athens. GeorgiaSkies flies to Athens with a $1 million annual subsidy, and that contract also is being rebid.