Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Durability of EAS

With the Department of Transportation's Essential Air Service Program receiving more public attention in the last week, blog readers may be interested in another story questioning the efficacy of the program.  See Halimah Abdullah, Half-Empty Flights Have Some Questioning Federal Subsidies, Macon Telegraph, June, 2, 2009 (available here). 

While there are numerous community-by-community stories out there offering both justifications for and criticisms of the program, it is key to keep in mind that the Government Accountability Office--the "investigative arm of Congress" and "congressional watchdog"--has clearly determined that the program is not cost effective.  See GAO, Commercial Aviation: Programs and Options for the Federal Approach to Providing and Improving Air Service to Small Communities, at 17, GAO-06-398T (Sept. 14, 2006).  More unsettling is the fact the EAS program was intended to sunset after a decade.  Instead, the Government renewed the program for an additional 10 years in 1988, see 49 U.S.C. § 1389(1) (1987), and, in 1998, eliminated the sunset provision altogether, see 49 U.S.C.A. § 41742 (West 2008).  What should have been a transitional program to ease some of the burdens accompanying the U.S.'s "big bag" deregulation of the air transport sector has turned into one of the most conspicuous regulatory artifices for domestic aviation.  That alone should be enough to raise eyebrows the next time Congress wants to step-in and "temporarily correct" the market.

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