Small communities and regional turboprop operations received what some consider unexpectedly generous support for the Essential Air Service program in late July, when the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed a funding package worth $128 million as part of the fiscal year 2003 transportation bill. The proposal recommends $65 million in direct appropriations for EAS, $50 million in transfer funds from the FAA and another $13 million in leftover money from last year’s package. In all, the committee’s proposal would give the EAS program $15 million more than it received last year.
Perhaps most gratifying to the Regional Airline Association, the proposal does not include proposed restrictions to eliminate communities subsidized over a $275-per-passenger cap, nor does it empower the DOT Secretary to disregard applications from communities eligible for service.
The industry also received $20 million of a proposed $27.5 million grant for the small community air service development zone. Included in the AIR-21 legislation passed two years ago in an effort to draw regional jets to small communities, the program received $20 million in FY 2002 as well, after it failed to yield any funding in FY 2001.