Two airports in Nebraska are trying to keep federal funding that helps pay for passenger service to their communities.
The regional airports in Kearney and Scottsbluff do not meet the requirements of the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Both exceed the subsidy limit of $200 per passenger.
To continue subsidies to the airlines that serve them, a waiver is needed.
Darwin Skelton, Western Nebraska Regional Airport (WNRA) directory, says losing that money would be devastating.
“We haven’t had a carrier in here for years that wasn’t under the Essential Air Service program,” Skelton tells Nebraska Radio Network. “You think about the airports across Nebraska that are receiving money – you’re looking at Grand Island, Kearney, North Platte, Scottsbluff, Chadron, Alliance, McCook. All the airports that are getting passenger service, they’re also getting Essential Air Service money.”
Skelton says he has submitted the waiver, but does not know yet if it was granted.
WNRA was receiving $2,256,166 from USDOT for Pen Air service to and from Denver, according to the department’s September data.
“So now it’s in their hands to decide what they’re going to do,” Skelton says. “We’re very hopeful that they will issue that, but you can’t depend on anything until it’s done.”
Jim Lynaugh, Kearney Regional Airport manager, says EAS funding is a lifeline for rural areas.
“It’s a lot like the spoke and hub concept, where it gives the public a mode of air transportation to a major hub,” Lynaugh tells Nebraska Radio Network.
He says USDOT is considering their waiver as well. Lynaugh thinks the debate over tax reforms and budget cuts in Washington add some uncertainty about the program.
“That has been talked about in the past, but the program is still going,” he says. “But, yes, it’s always a concern.”
The EAS annual contract for Pen Air serving the Kearney Regional Airport added up to $3,513,473.
AUDIO: Mike Loizzo reports [:44]