Things are looking good for the Essential Air Service (EAS) in Alaska. The U.S. Senate passed its Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill by a vote of 87-8, but Sen. John McCain’s amendment to eliminate the program was voted down 61-38.
The Arizona Republican had sought to eliminate the program because he felt it was unnecessary and had outlived its usefulness. He told the Senate he also saw it as a step in trimming government spending.
Alaska’s lawmakers immediately fought back. Senators Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, both addressed the Senate, saying that the program was absolutely necessary in this state because many rural communities receiving EAS subsidies have no outgoing roads or access to hub airports.
EAS funding is $200 million nationwide with around $12.3 million in Alaska. That money supports 44 Alaska communities receiving EAS services.
“I am thrilled my colleagues recognized the value of the Essential Air Service program and worked with me to preserve what is essentially a lifeline for many rural Alaska communities,“ Begich aid after the amendment was tabled. “Now we can focus on passing the FAA Reauthorization Act which will do many things to create jobs and improve aviation in Alaska.”
The Senate’s vote on the bill took place Thursday evening.
“I am pleased that my colleagues in the Senate voted down the McCain amendment and have elected to preserve this extremely vital program,” Murkowski said in a press release. “The Essential Air Service program provides dozens of Alaskan communities with a lifeline to meet their emergency medical, subsistence and shipping needs. While I firmly believe that Congress needs to take a hard look at where we can cut spending to reduce the nation’s deficit, eliminating Essential Air Service would be a calamity for rural Alaska.”
The House had introduced its own bill after McCain’s proposal that would phase out EAS over the next four years for everywhere except Alaska and Hawaii. The House’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved that bill this week. The next step for that bill is to go the House floor for a vote.
Congressman Don Young’s communications director, Meredith Kenny, said if the House bill passes, the Senate and House bills will go to a conference committee.
• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.