Sen. Thune: Essential Air Service important to S.D.

Published: Mar. 29, 2017 at 3:25 PM MDT
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Lawmakers across the country, including those from South Dakota, are hopeful they can save the Essential Air Service.

“The Essential Air Service is important to South Dakota. We have a lot of airports that are dependent on it," said Sen. John Thune (R-SD).

But apparently, President Trump disagrees. The president’s proposed budget calls for the elimination of the Essential Air Service.

The program subsidizes commuter and certificated air carriers that service 115 communities in the lower 48. Three of them are in South Dakota.

“Any budget proposal put forward by the president in his administration is just a starting point. Congress appropriates funds," explained Thune. "We think it’s always important to look at programs, make sure they’re operating efficiently, look at ways we can reform them, make them work better.”

Some say the Essential Air Service has grown too big. The program now costs taxpayers $175 million, and opponents don’t think it services enough people to justify the cost.

“There have been reports about planes flying form Hagerstown, MD to Baltimore, MD – a distance of about 75 miles – with literally one passenger," said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.

Schatz calls the EAS is a “privilege” and believes those who use it should pay more.

He concedes there are some communities so remote that air travel is the only option. But, he says, there should be a standard put in place them.

“Maybe in this case, a better, more effective program for those airports that truly need some kind of subsidy should be provided, and even then, the state and local governments can step in and help as well," said Schatz.

The EAS has been on the chopping block before, but lawmakers have been able to afloat. They’re optimistic they will this time too.

For a list of the carriers that get EAS funding and the airports that could be impacted, click "related links."