Small and regional airports throughout Nebraska serve as the connection between rural communities and their families, the economy, and the world. They also act as access points that help attract business and move people quickly. Our airports enable us to compete in a global economy. Without them, Nebraskans in many parts of our state would be hundreds of miles and hours away from the nearest airport.
The Essential Air Service (EAS) program ensures air travel remains available in rural communities. The Department of Transportation provides funding through the EAS program to support regional airline service in areas that, without this support, would struggle to maintain this service.
I brought the importance of the EAS program to the attention of the administration in person. During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last year, I questioned Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao about a proposal put forward by the administration to eliminate a significant amount of this program’s funding. The secretary assured the committee she would work within the administration to come to a solution on funding for the EAS program.
After meeting with Secretary Chao, I led a bipartisan group of senators in a letter that underscored how vital the EAS program is for Nebraskans and other rural areas. We asked Secretary Chao to keep us informed as discussions with the administration continued, and pledged to work hand-in-hand with the White House to make sure the EAS program continues for rural Americans.
That open line of communication has been vital in protecting our regional airports. Late last year, I was alarmed when, on Sept. 29, 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued an order that threatened the access of Nebraskans in rural areas to air travel. In the order, the DOT announced a tentative determination to end EAS eligibility in 27 communities, including the Western Nebraska Regional Airport in Scottsbluff and Kearney Regional Airport in Kearney.
These two facilities are important to the future success of Nebraska, and as your senior senator, I led members of the Nebraska delegation in addressing this issue with the administration. On Oct. 16, 2017, Senator Sasse and Congressman Smith joined me in requesting continued EAS support for Scottsbluff and Kearney airports from the DOT.
Our action paid off. On Dec. 29, 2017, the DOT announced it would continue its EAS support for those two facilities. This decision is a victory for these communities. It is a victory for our state. Because of it the people and goods in these rural areas can continue to get where they need to go.