We’ve all been waiting with bated breath to see what would happen to American health care (hooray, it’s intact, even if it’s still imperfect!) and everyone’s eyes were on the airports when Trump’s travel plan went into place. But tucked into Trump’s executive orders and new budget, there are other laws being made and programs being cut that deserve our attention.
Currently on the chopping block: The Essential Air Services program, which subsidizes rural airports so that residents of small towns have adequate transportation to other parts of the country and world.
The backstory, according to Travel + Leisure: In 1978 the Airline Deregulation Act passed, which gave airlines the freedom to charge whatever they wanted on flights and to serve only locations they thought were financially viable. The EAS was then passed to make sure rural communities weren’t left out of the equation (since in many places, the nearest major airport is hours away).
Where my family lives in Maine, for instance, the nearest major airport is more than two hours away — and even that’s a small one that requires further connections if you want to get almost anywhere. Like my family, there are many people across the country who rely on small connecting flights to access major airports.
However, under the new budget, the EAS, which currently applies to more than 100 airports, would be cut. (Get the full list here.)
The complaint from Trump and his ilk is that the government is spending too much money, to the tune of $175 million a year, subsidizing flights to keep rural airports financially viable. There are some airports in rural towns that are actually pretty close to the nearest major airport, while others, like the Falls International Airport in International Falls, Minnesota, are hundreds of miles away (a five-hour drive) to the closest major airport. But instead of working out the kinks in the system, Trump’s administration is voting to shut down the program entirely, leaving people in rural communities more isolated than ever.
Now, rural airports are scrambling, trying to figure out how they’ll help those living far from major urban areas stay connected to the rest of the world. Ironically, cutting the EAS would have a crushing effect on the rural areas where Trump was a favorite in the recent election, making it harder for lower-income people in rural areas to travel. It could also affect business prospects in those areas — the harder it is for business people and industry leaders to reach a small town, the less likely they are to do business there.
For now, only time will tell whether the EAS will survive as the new administration struggles to get their budget approved. But one thing is clear — the winners in this game are not the rural voters who put their faith in Trump.