Subsidies Bolstered List of Busiest Airports in Arkansas

by Jordan King  on Monday, Jul. 1, 2013 12:00 am  

SeaPort’s efforts to reduce operating costs at Memorial Field are crucial because an EAS rule dating back to 1994 requires that the subsidy per passenger at an EAS-funded community cannot exceed $200 unless the community is more than 210 highway miles from a medium- or large-hub airport. Downie said Memorial Field, which is 197 miles from the Memphis airport, is being “singled out” to reduce its subsidy per passenger, which was $310 in 2011.

Downie said the airport is working to promote SeaPort’s flights in an attempt to reduce the subsidy per passenger. He said Memorial Field saw an increase of 1,420 total passengers in 2012 compared with 2011, an increase he said was the result of “the city of Hot Springs operating as a partner with SeaPort and trying to get the citizens to use our local commuter service.”

The EAS program has a number of opponents who think the government should not subsidize air services. One opponent is Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as a “nonpartisan budget watchdog that serves as an independent voice for American taxpayers.” In an April post on the TCS website, the organization cited 2011 passenger boarding statistics and pointed out that if the Jonesboro Municipal Airport failed to increase its boarding average to 10 per service day, it would not receive future subsidies. The post called Essential Air Service a “wasteful and unnecessary program” that has “long outlived its intended purpose and needs to be eliminated.”

Asked how he would respond to the EAS critics, Siber said, “They’re folks who probably don’t use it.”

Some passengers, he said, rely on the service to travel for medical treatment and business.

“For a lot of these small towns, it’s their link to the outside world,” Siber said. “It’s critical.”



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