Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) are fighting to maintain air service from Rutland, Vt., to Boston. The federally-funded Essential Air Service program, which helps fund air service to connect rural cities to major hubs, is threatened by legislation passed by House Republicans.
Under the House bill, Rutland Southern Vermont Regional Airport would lose its only commercial air service. Cape Air currently receives roughly $800,000 a year through the EAS program to help fund three flights each day between Rutland and Boston’s Logan International Airport. Rutland is the only airport in Vermont that has air service which receives EAS funds.
The Senate and House have each passed bills that would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA legislation includes the funding to subsidize commercial air service at rural airports that otherwise would not be economically feasible.
“The EAS program plays a critical role in the economic development efforts of rural America, particularly in terms of attracting and retaining businesses that depend on commercial air service,” Sanders and Leahy wrote in a letter to the senators who are hammering out the differences between the House and the Senate bills. “It also plays an important role in healthcare delivery by providing citizens with easier access to sophisticated healthcare that is often absent in rural communities.”
Rutland’s mayor, Christopher Louras, said losing the EAS funding would have a profound effect on the city, particularly since the region already suffers being far from the Interstate highway system.
“The House provision, if adopted, would end commercial air service to more than 100 rural communities throughout the continental United States at a time when these communities are struggling with the effects of the longest and deepest economic recession since the Great Depression,” Sanders and Leahy wrote.
The House version would virtually eliminate EAS, preserving subsidies only in Hawaii and Alaska. The Senate version would scale back the program, but the changes would not impact Rutland.
Sanders and Leahy sent a letter to Sens. John Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R- Texas) who are representing the Senate during negotiations with House leaders.
To read Sens. Sanders’ and Leahy’s letter, click here.