Senator Lankford and Congressman Russell Introduce Bill to Terminate Nearly 40 Year Old “Temporary” Program
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) and Congressman Steve Russell (OK-5) today introduced the Senate and House versions of the Free Market Flights Act, a bill to terminate the Essential Air Service (EAS) program. The EAS was established in the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 with the intention of being a ten-year program to assist small communities in the transition to a free market airline system. EAS spending has grown 600 percent, in inflation adjusted dollars, in the last 20 years, even while half of all seats on EAS flights remain empty. Instead of phasing down as originally intended, the program continues to grow; for 2016 alone, it received an appropriation from Congress of $175 million in addition to more than $100 million dollars in flyover fees. This adds up to at least $275 million or more that will go towards paying down the national debt under the Free Market Flights Act.
“It is simply unfair to expect families in 99 percent of cities to subsidize convenient travel options for passengers flying in and out of the Essential Air Service airports,” said Lankford. “Congress should recognize that this 37-year temporary program is no longer essential and should eliminate it. Spending on this wasteful program continues to steadily rise in order to subsidize flights that often have fewer than ten passengers per day and cost more than $500 per passenger. That is why I included it in my ‘Federal Fumbles’ government waste report last year. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has recommended that Congress consider eliminating this program. It’s time to act on that recommendation. I’m glad that Congressman Russell has introduced this bill in the House.”
“Unfortunately Ronald Reagan was right when he said, ‘There is nothing so permanent as a temporary government program,’” said Russell. “EAS may have been well intentioned nearly 40 years ago, but today it is just wasteful. Many EAS airports are within an hour’s drive of an unsubsidized airport. In fact, one subsidized airport in Illinois is within an hour’s drive of two unsubsidized airports. The subsidy, at times, can be as high as $1000 per passenger for EAS flights. We are talking about a quarter billion dollars a year that should be going to the general fund in the Treasury. To put that figure in perspective, it would take roughly 19,600 Americans paying their income taxes to fund this program. It is time, in this one instance, to prove President Reagan wrong and end this ‘temporary’ government program.”
On Tuesday, Senator Lankford also introduced this legislation as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016 (HR 636).
Last November, Lankford released a federal government waste report entitled, “Federal Fumbles: 100 ways the government dropped the ball,” which listed $105 billion in wasteful federal spending, and about $800 billion in negative regulatory impact to the economy. The football-themed report also offered policy solutions to each of the examples of government waste. The elimination of the Essential Air Service program was listed on page #64 of Lankford’s report.
In FY2015 alone, the Department of Transportation spent $263 million on these subsidies and spending for the Essential Air Service program and funding continues to steadily rise in order to subsidize flights that often have fewer than ten passengers per day and cost more than $500 per passenger. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found that low-cost flights at non-subsidized airports are often more convenient and cheaper than EAS flights. The Congressional Budget Office has recommended that Congress consider eliminating EAS in its budget options.