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FAA Impasse Should Result in Reform

The FAA furloughs continue … and I can’t help but get fired up by the Essential Air Service (EAS) portion of the equation. Again, we’re talking about a 2,300-seat program as a major reason 4,000 federal employees are currently missing paychecks.

While we all continue to wait for Congress to do something, here are some examples of the program’s inefficiencies.

On the positive side we have service to Crescent City, Calif. Positioned near the border with Oregon, this picturesque town was named after the idyllic crescent shape of the town’s beach. Or at least so-says Wikipedia. What really matters to me is we’re talking about a town that’s a 368 mile drive from the nearest major airport, San Francisco International. If we’re going to spend tax dollars to provide equitable air service, Crescent City is the kind of place we should have in mind.

On the flip side, take Athens, GA. Made famous by R.E.M. and the notorious University of Georgia (Gator Bait!), Athens is a mere 77 miles from Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson Airport. That’s right--you and I and all our friends are offering a subsidy rate of over $1 million dollars so Athens’ travelers can avoid an hour-and-a-half drive. To make matters worse, the 2009 ACS confirms that over 93 percent of Athens’ households have access to a personal vehicle--so most folks could make the trip.

And Athens is just one example. Hot Springs (53 miles to Little Rock), Visalia (44 miles to Fresno), and Pueblo (43 miles to Colorado Springs) are all within driving distance of an airport with national connections. Of course, EAS ignores these three airports because only FAA-defined “large or medium hub” airports qualify as EAS service providers.

The reality is that this program needs reforming. And while I fully appreciate the nuanced arguments surrounding the union portion of the FAA reauthorization debate, there’s no reason for workforce politics to get in the way of sensible economics. Reform the program, save some money. Is that really so hard?