Merkley, Wyden, Walden push changes to law that arbitrarily excludes rural airports

Currently only airports that were already participating in Essential Air Service from September 2010 to 2011 may access the program, excluding airports like Klamath Falls from resources that would benefit the entire region

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, with Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR 2), are pushing the Comptroller General of the United States to consider the negative impact of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 on Klamath Falls and other rural airports in an upcoming study on reforms to the Essential Air Service program.

The law limits the Essential Air Service (EAS) program to airports that were already participating in the program between Sept. 30, 2010 and Sept. 30, 2011. This provision alone excludes the Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport—and other rural airports across the country—from EAS, which provides critical federal support to maintain air service in small communities despite the challenges they face simply by being located in rural areas.

“The Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport is a critical transportation link for the region, but has faced challenges finding carriers willing to serve a smaller market,” they wrote in a letter to Comptroller General Eugene Dodaro, head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office. “Regular air service allows remote communities to increase economic opportunity and attract visitors and new businesses. In the case of Klamath Falls, the airport is a crucial asset to the local economy in Klamath Falls, as well as the Air National Guard operating out of Kingsley Field.

“Across rural Oregon and America, there is high demand from local businesses for commercial air service to provide a necessary link to the nation’s economy, and to increase the community’s economy by adding jobs and bringing in visitors,” they continued. “Some rural airports, like the Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport in Klamath Falls, meet many of the criteria for the EAS program, but are denied eligibility simply because they were not receiving subsidies in 2011.”

Congress established the EAS program in order to ensure that small communities that were served by certificated air carriers prior to the Airline Deregulation Act would continue to receive passenger service, with subsidies helping to retain airlines if necessary. Currently the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton is Oregon’s only EAS airport.

The letter follows Merkley, Wyden and Walden’s introduction last year of theDefending Essential Flights and Ensuring National Security Efforts (DEFENSE) Act, which would allow rural commercial airports that are also heavily utilized by the military to access the EAS program. Klamath, for instance, shares its runway with a U.S. Air National Guard base.

Find the full text of the letter here and below.

Dear Comptroller Dodaro:

We write to urge you to consider the impact of past changes to the Essential Air Service (EAS) program on the Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport as part of your report on reforms to the EAS program.

The Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport is a critical transportation link for the region, but has faced challenges finding carriers willing to serve a smaller market. Regular air service allows remote communities to increase economic opportunity and attract visitors and new businesses. In the case of Klamath Falls, the airport is a crucial asset to the local economy in Klamath Falls, as well as the Air National Guard operating out of Kingsley Field.

Across rural Oregon and America, there is high demand from local businesses for commercial air service to provide a necessary link to the nation’s economy, and to increase the community’s economy by adding jobs and bringing in visitors. Some rural airports, like the Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport in Klamath Falls, meet many of the criteria for the EAS program, but are denied eligibility simply because they were not receiving subsidies in 2011.

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (PL 115-254) requires the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study on the impact of several changes to the EAS program since 2010. We strongly urge you to consider the impact of Sec. 422 in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (PL 112-95), which limits entry into the program to airports that were participating in the program between September 30, 2010 and September 30, 2011, on the EAS program. The Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport is not alone in being otherwise eligible for the program if it was not for this provision.

Congress established the EAS program to ensure that small communities that were served by certificated air carriers prior to the Airline Deregulation Act would continue to receive passenger service. On behalf of the small communities we represent, we would request that you review how recent legislative changes to the EAS program have affected airports like Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport.  

Thank you for your attention to this issue, and we look forward to a swift response.