Official testifies for subsidized air service

Commissioner asks Senate committee to keep rural subsidy

Posted: Sunday, September 17, 2006

FAIRBANKS - A state official told a Senate committee that Alaska deserves subsidized air service, funding for which the Bush Administration wants to reduce.

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John Torgerson, a deputy transportation commissioner, testified Thursday in Washington, D.C., before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Torgerson said he was not in favor of the administration's proposal to reduce subsidies by more than half across the nation.

He said the program in Alaska already has capitalized on money-saving ideas proposed by the Government Accountability Office.

The subsidy for Essential Air Service has quadrupled since 1996, and Congress proposes to spend $117 million for it next year. Alaska received $9.4 million in 2005, the most recent figures Torgerson had available.

Most senators who attended Thursday's hearing, called by the aviation subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, remained resistant to the administration's proposed cuts, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Friday.

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., thanked witnesses for appearing because "it's very, very important that this town understand the challenges we face" in rural states.

Gerald Dillingham, GAO's aviation issues director, told the aviation subcommittee that the government could save money by giving subsidies only to truly remote communities; using smaller aircraft to better match flight capacity with community demand; consolidating service into regional airports, and changing the subsidy system so money goes via grants to communities rather than payments to air carriers.

"I believe Alaska is the poster child for those four points," Torgerson said.

Torgerson said most subsidized communities in Alaska are far off the road system, served by small aircraft and act as regional hubs.

"If you're talking essential, you can't get more essential than what we have," he said.

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