The Essential Air Service program dates back to 1978 and the passage of the Airline Deregulation Act. The act gave airlines almost total freedom to determine which markets to serve domestically and what fares to charge for that service.
Good for airlines perhaps, but not so good for small markets like Great Bend. So, the United States Department of Transportation leveled the runway with the EAS to guarantee that small communities that were served by certificated air carriers.
This is done by subsidizing two to four round trips a day to a major hub airport. The department currently subsidizes commuter airlines to serve approximately 163 rural communities across the country that otherwise would not receive any scheduled air service.
Every two years, the USDOT solicits bids for EAS carriers. These bids are forwarded to cities in an attempt to garner local input, even though the final decision rests in the feds’ hands.
The Great Bend City Council wrestled with this matter when it met Monday night. It acted on a recommendation by its own EAS Committee to support one of two bid options.
After some debate, it opted for SeaPort Airlines of Portland, Ore., over Cheyenne, Wyo.,-based Great Lakes Aviation which is the current EAS provider. There were concerns over the quality of service provided by Great Lakes.
Why does all this matter when many, if not most, Great Bend residents will never fly out of Great Bend Municipal Airport?
If there are not enough passengers utilizing the EAS, we could lose it.
But, why does that matter?
True, we are a small community that prides itself on self reliance. We promote shopping local. We like to think we can go it alone.
However, we are not an island.
The airport is merely another connection to the outside world. It also looks good on our city’s resume.
Sure this is important to corporate big wigs and company execs, but could, at some point, be important to anyone.