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American Taxpayers Subsidizing Millions To Regional Airports

Reported: May. 7, 2014 4:44 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (Kristine Frazao) -- In 2013, American taxpayers forked out more than $230 million worth of airfare to 117 regional airports across the country.

But should taxpayers be footing this bill – being paid from the Essential Air Services Program – and just how essential is it? Sinclair national correspondent Kristine Frazo takes a look in a special report.

When asked why the American taxpayers should be funding such flights, Brien Poffenberger, president of the Hgerstown-Washington County Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said there are plenty of reasons.

“It makes all the sense in the world," Poffenberger said. “If you look at the things government should be doing and governments shouldn't be doing this is one of those investments in a community that frankly is based on the edge of a metro that will really help jumpstart us."

Congress created essential air service in the late 1970s as a temporary means to grow the economies of small communities.

Pffenberger was at a loss to name a single business that expanded or located in his community because of essential air. His area has not always had the service.

Economist Peter Morici said the service is all about the pork.

"It's just another example of how one senator rolls over for another,” Morici said. “Everybody gets their pork and Americans pay too muchtaxes. They don't get to keep enough of their money and they subsidize very inefficient operations."


On a recent weekday afternoon, we took one of Sun Air's four daily subsidized flights from Hagerstown's regional airport to Washington's Dulles Airport. By car, it's a 73-mile drive. The plane, a Piper Chieftain, holds nine passengers. Another passenger was on board; the remaining seats were empty.

Our ticket for the 25-minute flight -- $25.50. Taxpayers picked up the rest the tab -- $730. Over the course of a year, at just this one airport, that adds up to more than one-point-seven-million dollars.

Taxpayers will not be on the hook for essential air much longer in Hagerstown and some other communties across the country. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced it's pulling the plug on service in Pennsylvania, California, Iowa, Tennessee, Alabama and some other states because there are just too few passengers.

To read about why each of the airports mentioned are losing service, check out the Department of Transportation report here.



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