By Nolan Musselwhite '20
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump suggested cutting the Essential Air Services (EAS) program in his proposed budget. Though it’s necessary to trim federal expenditure, the EAS, as a program that is truly essential (hence the name), is not the place to do it. The program, established in 1978 with the Airline Deregulation Act as a means to ensure route service on low-demand routes to small towns continued, subsidizes flights from rural communities far to larger hub airports so that residents can avoid hours-long drives whenever they need to travel, a crucial service in our modern society. I’ve been on an EAS flight myself; last year, I took the 20-minute Southern Airways Express flight from Dulles to Hagerstown, West Virginia. It was cheap, the plane was small and not too costly to operate, and it provided a one-stop connection for the people of Hagerstown to nearly any major city in the country. In speaking with the pilots, I learned that the ~15 seat flight was sometimes completely full, underscoring the need to that service. The service operates similarly around the country, with small, relatively cost-efficient aircraft providing a regular and necessary service to rural and underserved communities all across the U.S.
Maintaining this service wouldn’t be just a good move in principle, however, but it would also be a good political move for President Trump. The Republicans need the support of Alaska’s senators (especially Lisa Murkowski (R), who has wavered on some of their key agendas), and Alaska is the state where the EAS is almost unarguably most essential. Likewise, many of the states and communities that are served by the EAS voted for Trump in the last election. In that way, keeping the EAS would be a prudent political move, as well as a good one in principle.
Though Trump has proposed cutting many crucial programs, from the environment to politics, the EAS is among the most essential, as it ensures the livelihoods of the residents of small towns (some of whom use EAS-subsidized flights to commute) and helps connect rural communities across the nation.
“Essential Air Service.” US Department of Transportation, United States Department of Transportation, 22 June 2012, www.transportation.gov/policy/aviation-policy/small-community-rural-air-service/essential-air-service.
Korte, Gregory. “The 62 agencies and programs Trump wants to eliminate.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 17 Mar. 2017, www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/03/16/what-does-trump-budget-eliminate/99223182/.