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Under proposed bill, airport would need more passengers to retain subsidy

Cape Air could lose EAS subsidy for commuter flights from Hagerstown Regional Airport

February 02, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • A Cape Air Cessna 402 arrives at Hagerstown Regional Airport from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Herald-Mail file photo

Hagerstown Regional Airport would need to boost its Cape Air passenger counts to keep a federal subsidy under a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill under consideration in Congress.

That bill, which would authorize and fund the FAA through 2015, also would tighten requirements for Essential Air Service subsidies, which help rural communities maintain commercial air service to larger hubs.

Under the bill, to keep an EAS subsidy, an air service would have to average 10 or more passengers a day, unless the community it serves is more than 175 miles from a hub airport.

Cape Air receives an EAS subsidy for its commuter flights from Hagerstown Regional Airport to Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport. That service averaged 9.7 paid passengers per day in 2011, according to airport Director Phil Ridenour.

Hagerstown Regional Airport is well within the 175-mile limit in which the 10-passenger minimum would apply.

The good news is that the airport would have more than a year to bring its passenger counts up.

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Passenger counts would be measured in federal fiscal 2013, which begins Oct. 1, 2012 and ends Sept. 30, 2013, according to the staff of U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

“This isn’t a reform designed to penalize anyone, but rather to encourage local use of local airports,” a Rockefeller spokesman said.
Ridenour said he was “pretty confident” the airport could boost daily passenger counts to 10 or more in time to keep the subsidy through 2015.

“It’s certainly a goal to work for,” he said.

Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who chairs theSenate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, has led efforts in the Senate to pass the bill.

In a news release Wednesday, Rockefeller said that House and Senate leaders had reached a compromise on the bill, which was set to be voted on by the House this week, the Senate next week and signed by the president shortly after.

The FAA’s long-term operating authority expired in 2007. Since then, the agency has operated under a series of short-term extensions, leaving EAS participants to worry each time about whether the program would continue to be funded, Ridenour said.

“This whole thing has been pretty confusing and pretty stressful for us because we want nothing more than to get the service here and keep it here,” he said.

Rockefeller said in the release that he pushed to preserve the EAS program in the reauthorization bill while a House proposal called for eliminating all special funds for small airports.

“Essential Air Service funding is a lifeline for small communities, and I will not allow an FAA bill to pass that eliminates this important tool of economic development,” he said in the release.

Cape Air’s EAS subsidy for the Hagerstown-to-BWI service is $1.2 million a year, officials have said.

That money comes from the Aviation Transportation Fund through user fees and, if not directed to Hagerstown, would go elsewhere, not back to a general fund, airport Business Development Manager Greg Larsen has said.

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