When talking to residents in the Third District, issues of access are often discussed: access to health care, veteran services, and, certainly, transportation. One important initiative which facilitates transportation access is the Essential Air Service (EAS). This program provides airline service to smaller, rural areas and ensures access to the national transportation system. Most importantly, EAS provides businesses throughout Nebraska access to dependable air service, a necessary component of economic opportunity and rural job creation.
As chairman of the Congressional Rural Caucus and a member of the Congressional General Aviation Caucus, reforming and maintaining the EAS program has been a major focus of mine. Last year, lawmakers tried to sunset EAS without pursuing any reforms in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill. I voted against the initial legislation knowing the adverse economic impact it would have in Nebraska and other rural states.
Over the past several months, I continued to urge negotiators of the final FAA Reauthorization bill to reform and maintain EAS. In April of last year and as recently as last week, I led bipartisan letters to these House and Senate negotiators. This week, I was pleased to learn EAS would remain -- with reforms -- in the final legislation. I voted for this legislation Friday, which passed on a bipartisan vote, and is expected in the Senate next week.
The recent reforms of EAS include a provision which focuses on ridership; specifically by eliminating funds for airports unable to reach a 10 passenger per day average -- unless they are more than 175 miles from a medium or large hub airport -- EAS moving forward will be more targeted and therefore more effective. This provision saves taxpayer dollars by ensuring access to communities which both need and utilize EAS. It is important to utilize our regional airports so as to preserve this access when future reforms are implemented.
Our nation's dire fiscal situation demands we set priorities and trim excess funding for programs where it is no longer needed. Working across party lines, we were able to achieve long-term reforms which maintain EAS while spending taxpayer dollars more efficiently. This outcome is a win-win for the hardworking people of rural America and shows we can still move our country forward in a bipartisan fashion.
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