Our View: Don't slash subsidy for rural airports

April 27, 2007 12:00 am
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As consolidate and cut their flights, passenger service to isolated, rural communities such as Del Norte County remain in constant danger of losing their routes. Congress helped address that problem several years ago by creating the Essential Airport Service subsidy, which pays airlines to continue offering flights to those communities.

The White House's latest budget proposal calls for slashing that subsidy by more than half, from $109 million to $50 millio, however. Up to 50 airports across the country could lose all of their funding. Others, such as Del Norte County's airport, could lose a percentage of the subsidy.

Congress must oppose this cut.

For many communities, air passenger service is an essential component of their economy. While the community may not generate enough passengers to make flights there profitable for the airlines, they do generate enough passengers that the loss of them would harm local hotels, restaurants and other businesses. In many cases, essential businesses – such as hospitals – would not locate or stay in a community lacking flights.

Indeed, an airport with passenger service helps limit the isolation of many rural communities, including our own. The alternative often is driving hours by motor vehicle to another airport, regional urban center or the state capital. While driving may be just an annoyance to that community's businesspeople, government officials and residents, such isolation does effectively prevent most others from traveling there. Conference calls via telephone and the Internet can reduce only a small portion of this isolation; sometimes a person simply needs to physically be in a spot to see property or conduct negotiations.

Maintaining the subsidy also is a safety issue. If rural, isolated airports lose their passenger airline, there's less urgency to maintain runways and towers for landing jets or large planes. The result is an airport that can't support military aircraft following natural disasters, such as earthquakes, flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes or tsunamis. That limits the amount of aid and assistance that can arrive to an already difficult to reach community.

We're certainly no fans of subsidizing big business, but sometimes, for the economic well-being and safety of a community such as ours, it's necessary. This is one of those cases.