WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman this week once again called on a key Senate committee to support rural commercial air service programs that are vital to many New Mexico communities.
The Senate is preparing to write the fiscal year 2009 spending bill that funds transportation projects throughout the country. The bill funds the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Essential Air Service (EAS) Program, which makes it possible for commercial airlines to provide affordable and reliable service to smaller communities. Also funded through the bill is DOT’s Small Community Air Service Development Program – an initiative Bingaman created that helps rural communities enhance their commercial air service.
In a letter to the two top members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee who are writing the bill, Bingaman and a bipartisan group of 33 Senators stressed the importance of EAS and the Small Community Air Service Development Grant Program to America’s rural communities and called on Senate appropriators to fund EAS at the authorized level of $127 million and to continue funding the Small Community Air Service Development Program at the authorized level of $35 million.
“Many of New Mexico’s small communities rely on commercial air service to attract business and promote economic growth in the region. Programs like EAS and the Small Community Air Service program are vital to maintain this important mode of transportation in our state,” Bingaman said.
Congress established the Essential Air Service program in 1978 to ensure that those communities that had commercial air service prior to deregulation would continue to receive critical service that they might otherwise lose. Without EAS, many rural communities would have no commercial air service at all. New Mexico has a total of 5 EAS communities: Alamogordo, Carlsbad, Clovis, Hobbs and Silver City.
The Small Community Air Service Development Program was first implemented in 2002 and for five years has helped rural communities enhance their commercial air service. The focus of the program is on communities that have insufficient air service or have unreasonably high airfares. Roswell, Gallup, Ruidoso and Farmington have won Small Community grants in the past four years.
Bingaman also urged Senate appropriators to include a provision he wrote that would ensure EAS communities are not required to pay to maintain their commercial air service.
President Bush’s fiscal year 2009 budget request proposed to cut the EAS program and likely eliminate commercial air service to New Mexico’s communities. Airlines currently receive a total of $3.69 million in annual subsidies to serve New Mexico. Current annual payments are as follows:
ã€ˆ Alamogordo/Holloman $717,506
ã€ˆ Carlsbad $303,554
ã€ˆ Clovis $1.18 million
ã€ˆ Hobbs $303,554
ã€ˆ Silver City/ Deming $1.18 million