The U.S. Senate Tuesday approved a bill which could continue to fund a more than $5 million subsidy to the Raleigh County Memorial Airport, allowing it to continue offering commercial services to area fliers.
By a vote of 95-3, the U.S. Senate approved the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016, which protects air services to rural communities in West Virginia through the Essential Air Service (EAS) program.
On Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives version of the bill was still in the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee, according to Congress.gov. The House bill has a provision calling for the privatization of air traffic control operations, which is causing it to be bogged down in committee.
“In West Virginia, small airports provide critical service to our state’s rural communities. This bill ensures that our smaller airports can continue to safely and reliably serve West Virginians and contribute to the state’s economy,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D, said, “As a pilot, I have always been passionate about the issues that affect the aviation community, and I’m happy we were able to come together to pass this important legislation.”
Tom Cochran, manager of Raleigh County Memorial Airport, said EAS’s biennial funding of $5.5 million allows the airport to offer a number of services, including TSA security and commercial flight service.
“This funding is a benefit to rural areas,” he said. “It allows commercial service that links us to the rest of the world.”
EAS funding allows scheduled flights to Charlotte, N.C.; St. Augustine, Fla.; and seasonal flights to Myrtle Beach from the Raleigh County, Cochran said.
The bill also provides important updates to the program that the industry has been advocating for including an elimination of the annual benefit/cost analysis for most airports. Four West Virginia airports participate in the program, including Greenbrier County.
The bill also creates a working group that will study whether funding for EAS and the Small Community Air Service Development Programs are sufficient to support air service to small, rural communities. Both Beckley and Greenbrier County airports could benefit from the working group.
The Congressional Budget Office scored the bill as costing $16.7 billion, offset by $8 million in reduced direct spending and increase revenues from civil penalties by less than $500,000.
The bill extends the Federal Aviation Administration’s programs and powers through Oct. 1, 2017. That authority is due to expire July 15.