BANGOR, Maine — The U.S. House of Representatives voted 223-196 Friday to adopt a four-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration that eliminates the Essential Air Service program, which provides funding to numerous small airports, including four in Maine.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, who voted against the measure, said eliminating that source of funding would cripple the state’s small airports, located in Presque Isle, Bar Harbor, Rockland and Augusta.
“This bill will force some airports in Maine to close their doors. This is absolutely the wrong time to be eliminating this crucial economic support,” Michaud said in a statement.
“Airports not only serve as significant economic centers of communities but they often serve entire regions,” he said. “We need to be doing everything we can to attract businesses and this would be a significant step back for economic development and job creation in our state.”
The most recent long-term FAA reauthorization bill expired Sept. 30, 2007. Since then, Congress has passed a series of short-term extensions of FAA’s authority.
The U.S. Senate voted in February on its version of the FAA reauthorization, which included funding for the Essential Air Service program. That measure passed in an 87-8 vote.
Now, the two chambers will work together to craft a single bill. Michaud said he hopes the program is preserved in that process.
On Friday, Michaud joined with U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., to write a bipartisan letter to lead House negotiators urging them to work to preserve the EAS program during the coming conference negotiations with the Senate over a final FAA bill.
The EAS program provides subsidies to air carriers for providing service between selected small communities and hub airports. The program was originally established in 1978 as part of airline deregulation to ensure a minimum level of air service to smaller communities that might otherwise lose service because of economic factors.
In February, Michaud sent a letter to his colleagues on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee urging them to support the EAS program. Before sending his letter, Michaud solicited advice from Maine airports that currently participate in the program.
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, successfully took action to protect EAS funding when the Senate considered its version of the bill in February.
During the process, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, proposed an amendment to kill the EAS program. Snowe opposed it, saying EAS provides vital support for Maine’s rural airports. The amendment was voted down and the full bill, with funding for the EAS program, passed.
Severing direct air links to major employers and popular vacation spots is precisely the wrong approach to incentivizing job growth while unemployment remains at 9 percent, said Snowe.