Quick Primer on America's Essential Air Service

Discussion in 'Non-Rail Transportation' started by Devil's Advocate, Nov 5, 2019.

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  1. Nov 5, 2019 #1

    Devil's Advocate

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    Meet the Essential Air Service, a nationwide welfare program that hands taxpayer money to commercial airlines in order to subsidize short flights to small rural airports, often with few or even no passengers.

     
  2. Nov 6, 2019 #2

    ehbowen

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    Whereas, of course, if we had a comprehensive national rail network with multiple frequencies per day and well-run, well-equipped trains which were attractive to passengers (i.e., real diners), we could provide quality service to almost all of these small towns for just the cost of a platform and a two-minute stop...maybe even an agent and baggage handler, if you're willing to talk luxuries.
     
  3. Nov 7, 2019 #3

    Devil's Advocate

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  4. Nov 11, 2019 #4

    neroden

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    It's hard to know how much of the EAS costs is Alaska/Hawaii/Puerto Rico, which is hard to do any other way.

    The rest of it could all be replaced with trains much more cheaply. For a really extreme example, why the hell is Quincy IL on the EAS list? It already HAS train service. It does not need air service. Same with Burlington, IA, and Havre, MT, and McCook NE. Also White River Junction VT, Plattsburgh NY, Devils Lake ND, Altoona PA, Lancaster PA, Johnstown PA, Greenbrier, WV...

    Frankly a good start would be "All subsidies provided to EAS cities with an Amtrak station shall be transferred to Amtrak"
     
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  5. Nov 12, 2019 #5

    jebr

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    I'd say let's reform the program and let private ground transportation operators bid as well to connect towns to the nearest airport. There's at least three EAS cities nearby here that have both intercity bus transportation (or very simple connections to them) and specific airport shuttles going to the nearby major airport (Brainerd, MN; Mason City, IA; and Fort Dodge, IA.) When there's multiple ground transportation options, it seems silly to spend millions of dollars yearly to subsidize air service as well.
     
  6. Nov 12, 2019 #6

    Willbridge

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    McCook's evil twin - North Platte (on UP) - also has been an EAS service point, in an attractive terminal staffed by two. The airport restaurant was a popular spot for Sunday dinners, so the kids could watch the flight come and go. Before deregulation it was served by old Frontier with 737's. In 2016 when I visited, the legacy concrete runway that former Frontier had demanded hosted a monthly flight to Winnemucca casinos.

    North Platte, NE
    2016 Spring 062.jpg


    McCook, NE
    2016 Summer 162.jpg
     
  7. Nov 12, 2019 #7

    MARC Rider

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    I see Hagerstown, MD is on this list. Given that it's only about an hour or hour and a half drive from there to BWI, I'm not sure I see the need to spend 2.3 million per year to fly a 9-seater puddle jumper out of there. A coach shuttle would be far more practical.

    Rockland and Augusta Maine are other head scratchers. They're not all that far from Bangor and Portland, both of which have unsubsidized airports.

    Lebanon NH/White River Junction VT also seem superfluous, but I'm glad there's an airport there, because I use it to rent a car when I ride the Vermonter.

    For many of these airports, it seems that direct bus services to the nearest large airport would be a far more practical way to connect those communities to the airline network. Trains running from these communities would be useful for bringing people into the actual metropolitan areas. In nearly all large cities, the transfer from the Amtrak station to the airport is a bit of a nuisance.
     
  8. Nov 16, 2019 #8

    Devil's Advocate

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    I can understand why politicians and chamber of commerce folks would want their town to have direct commercial airline service. I just don't agree that the rest of us should be paying for it in 2019. If your town can't manage even one revenue positive airline link then it's either too small to matter or too close to another airport to be worthy of taxpayer subsidies. That being said I'm fine with reasonably measured subsidizing of passenger rail service or comfortable shuttle service if rail is impractical. Hawaii wants to be environmentally minded so they can use taxes for modern boats if they'd like. People move to Alaska for the increased salaries so let them buy revenue positive tickets rather than sending the bills down to people making less. That's my opinion anyway.
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2019
  9. Nov 16, 2019 #9

    bretton88

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    You do get that there's a lot of very poor Native Americans up there too? The rural areas of Alaska are often quite poor with no other infrastructure near. Now whether this should be strictly a state issue is a different debate.
     
  10. Nov 16, 2019 #10

    Devil's Advocate

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    If they were forced into a remote area against their will by the federal government pushing them off their land then I can see them having a legitmate case for federal tax assistance. If they choose to live in a very remote area simply because that's what they prefer then I may feel differently. In either case I would be disinclined to provide federal assistance through an easily abused program that seems primarily focused on political favors and airline revenue rather than helping poor people reach the next trading post.
     
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  11. Nov 18, 2019 at 3:08 PM #11

    IndyLions

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    I don’t see anything wrong with subsidized air service, just like I don’t see anything wrong with subsidized train service. Many of us on this forum would loathe our local train being replaced with a bus. I’m sure there are many patrons of these subsidized air routes that would loathe them being replaced by a train or bus.
     
  12. Nov 18, 2019 at 3:55 PM #12

    MARC Rider

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    Perhaps, but there are some subsidized routes that are redundant, and such. It's one thing to subsidize a service from a remote part of Alaska, or even Montana, but subsidies for flights from Hagerstown, MD, which is very close to BWI or Harrisburg, or Augusta Maine, which is close to Portland, don't seem to make sense.

    Also, most of these flights seem to be in very small planes, like 6-9 seaters. Personally, I'd rather drive a couple hours to an airport that has real jets rather than fly in one of those little puddle jumpers, which are not only less comfortable that mainline jets, but may also be somewhat less safe.

    Not every little 2-bit burg in this country needs to have air service to be connected to the airline network.
     
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  13. Nov 18, 2019 at 3:58 PM #13

    Devil's Advocate

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    You could make a rational case for subsidizing some air service, just as bretton88 did above, but the way EAS was deployed (often in the form of low density flights serving small towns within driving distance of larger airports) is not the way to go about it (IMO). Consider federally funded flights between Hawaiian islands. If you can't afford the cost of an island flight then you can't afford Hawaii. If the state of Hawaii wants taxpayer funded support for non-tourist travel then I would suggest those taxes go to boats instead.
     
  14. Nov 18, 2019 at 6:02 PM #14

    jebr

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    Exactly. Mankato, MN was recently added to the airline network by Landline, in a way that's arguably more seamless for the customer than an EAS flight on an airline that doesn't have any partners to connect with. It also offers another option for Duluth, MN passengers. While the partnership is only with Sun Country, the actual bus service is still open to anyone. If the ticket is booked with Sun Country, the connection is guaranteed, checked luggage is automatically transferred, and both the bus and air boarding passes are issued at the first check-in, whether with Sun Country or Landline. TSA security still has to be cleared at MSP, but there's no need to get boarding passes or re-check the bag.

    On an EAS carrier without a partner, any checked baggage would have to be obtained at baggage claim, rechecked (typically outside security) and then re-clear security. There's also not that connection protection that's normal on one itinerary (though with Sun Country, an ultra-low-cost carrier, those accommodations could be rather spartan.) For shorter flights where the road network is already adequate, a bus setup with bag check that directly interfaces with a major airline could be cheaper and preferable to an EAS carrier where you have to re-check bags and re-clear security if you're wanting to connect.
     
  15. Nov 18, 2019 at 6:15 PM #15

    railiner

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    I think that in some cases, it is a matter of prestige that causes places like Augusta, ME to want air service. After all, it is the state capital. Not unlike certain cities wanting so-called "vanity flights" to international destinations, as we've discussed in previous threads...
     
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  16. Nov 18, 2019 at 11:50 PM #16

    Bob Dylan

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    Does Jefferson City,Mo. have Air Service or are the River Runners the only Public Transportation to Missouri's Capital?
     
  17. Nov 19, 2019 at 3:55 AM #17

    saxman

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    I've compiled a list of EAS cities that are also served by Amtrak, or at least very close to an Amtrak station:

    Hot Springs, AR via Malvern
    Jonesboro, AR via Walnut Ridge
    Merced, CA
    Visalia, CA via Hanford
    Quincy, IL
    Burlington, IA
    Dodge City, KS
    Garden City, KS
    Hattiesburg/Laurel, MS
    Meridian, MS
    Kirksville, MO via La Plata
    Glasgow, MT
    Havre, MT
    Wolf Point, MT
    Grand Island, NE via Hastings
    McCook, NE
    Plattsburg, NY
    Devils Lake, ND
    Altoona, PA
    Johnstown, PA
    Lancaster, PA
    Rutland, VT
    Staunton, VA
    Beckley, WV via Prince
    Greenbriar/White Sulphur Springs, WV

    Of course some of these cities, you could argue that they get less than stellar service from Amtrak with middle of the night or three days a week or simply doesn't go where you might need to. Havre, MT has flights to Billings and you can make connections elsewhere from there, while Amtrak only goes across the northern part of the state. Beckley only get a train 3 days a week way up in Prince. But other cities, like Lancaster or Visalia get multiple trains a day and are close to other major airports.
     
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  18. Nov 19, 2019 at 6:17 PM #18

    Eric S

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    The Columbia (MO) airport is located between Columbia and Jefferson City (about 15ish miles from Columbia and 20ish miles from Jefferson City).
     
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  19. Nov 20, 2019 at 7:45 AM #19

    bretton88

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    There's definitely an argument for optimizing the EAS (could a bus or train be a better/cheaper alternative? Are some cities too close to a major airport? Etc). For example, why is Burlington, IA an EAS City? The CZ goes through there at good times. There's an argument whether such services should be provided at the state level instead of the federal level. However, just like other modes of transportation get subsidized, I do believe the EAS should be available in some form. In some remote areas it might be able to combine with cargo deliveries.
     
  20. Nov 21, 2019 at 6:25 PM #20

    Maglev

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