Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Target 11: Update to Essential Air Service program (With Video)

PITTSBURGH -   We first told you about the controversial federal program, known as the Essential Air Service program, for which tens of millions of tax dollars are spent every year to subsidize commercial flights into tiny airports across the country.

Critics call it a waste of tax dollars, but supporters say it ultimately stimulates the local economy.

Target 11 discovered that despite federal budget cuts and furloughs at some of the nation’s largest airports, the program remains intact and untouched.

Target 11 put the Essential Air Service program to the test again, and just like we saw back in November in Franklin, Pa., we found near-empty airplanes flying to places like Stauton, Va., and Beckley, W. Va.

Despite huge federal budget cuts in recent months, which required the furlough of air traffic controllers and the closure of air traffic control towers, the government’s controversial Essential Air Service program is still set to suck up tens of millions of tax dollars to subsidize passenger tickets at 118 small airports nationwide.

“Can we really afford as a nation to keep subsidizing people to fly on empty airplanes when there are better ways to get them there?” said Dan Ronan, of the American Bus Association.

A United States Department of Transportation spokesman said, despite a budget crisis, no adjustments have yet to be made to the Essential Air Service.

In fact, when Target 11 walked into Beckley’s airport, days after the federal budget cuts took effect, we found the same number of flights still scheduled, a ticket clerk on duty and a TSA checkpoint still up and running -- but an airport with no passengers.

"They have economies that can benefit from having that air service available,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.

Casey tells Target 11 that these small rural airports depend on the program to keep their economy soaring.

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