Your Tax Dollars Pay To Fly Planes Without Passengers
The Essential Air Service Program provides Federal subsidies to operate and maintain airports in rural areas that don't see enough passengers to fiscally keep it open.
The airport at Ely, Nevada is one example:
Federal statistics reviewed...Press show that in 2010, just 227 passengers flew out of Ely while the airline got $1.8 million in subsidies. The travelers paid $70 to $90 for a one-way ticket. The cost to taxpayers for each ticket: $4,107.
Ely is one of 153 rural communities where airlines get subsidies through the $200 million Essential Air Service program, and one of 13 that critics say should be eliminated from it.
Steve Smith, executive director of the Jackson, Tenn., airport authority, also has seen empty or near empty flights take off, since the airlines get paid per flight, not per passenger.
Empty seats can equal free money.
The subsidy amounted to $244 for each of the 2,514 people who flew out of Smith's airport last year, though few if any passengers knew that.
"They fly the empty plane so they can still get the money," Smith said.
Established in the 1970's, the Essential Air Service Program's budget has steadily increased over the years.
In 1999, the EAS served 89 communities — 68 in the continental United States, one in Hawaii and 20 in Alaska. Today, it serves 45 in Alaska and 108 elsewhere, and over the last 10 years the budget quadrupled from $50 million to $200 million.