Airports from Lake Clear to Watertown rely on the EAS program to fund their operations. But some lawmakers say it's time for the federal government to end subsidies for such facilities.
During a joint appearance in Lake Clear late last week, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer said EAS funding is critical to fueling job growth and healing an ailing North Country economy.
The senators also learned that EAS funding has provided a critical boost to the Adirondack Regional Airport, which is now offering at least one unsubsidized flight per day during the summer months. Chris Morris reports.
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Harrietstown Supervisor Larry Miller says state and federal assistance has helped his town rebuild this small airport located just outside Saranac Lake.
Citing a 2010 state aviation bureau study, Miller told Senators Gillibrand and Schumer the airport produces an $8 million economic impact for the Tri-Lakes region.
“This makes the Adirondack Regional Airport one of the economic drivers supporting the North Country,” he said.
Miller says the airport has become a model of the Essential Air Service program, noting that in 2008 no one was flying commercially out of Lake Clear.
Three years later, with Massachusetts-based Cape Air providing air services through a $1.4 million annual subsidy, those numbers have skyrocketed.
“But in August 2011, I know we’re approaching 10,000 people flying in and out of Lake Clear to Boston Logan,” Miller said. “We haven’t seen those numbers since the 1980 Olympics.”
Dan Wolf is founder of Cape Air and a newly-minted state senator in Massachusetts.
Wolf says the EAS program is exactly the sort of public-private partnership that can generate economic growth for rural communities. He adds that the service provided by Cape Air, including a new partnership with Jet Blue, connects the Tri-Lakes region to other business hubs, supporting the local economy.
But the big success story, Wolf says, is that Cape Air is now able to add unsubsidized flights out of Lake Clear.
“And we’re thrilled that we have now gotten to the point where we’re doing four roundtrips a day to this airport and one of them without subsidy,” Wolf said. “I think we would all agree that any subsidized program, one would hope idealistically, you would get to the point where you would wean off of subsidy. And for the last two summers we’ve actually been able to add non-subsidized service because we’ve been so successful in building the passenger count.”
According to numbers provided by Wolf, that passenger count has increased from about 6,400 in 2008 to upwards of 11,000 this year.
Senator Charles Schumer says the amazing turn-around at the Lake Clear is the kind of success story he plans to bring to Washington, where some of his Republican colleagues are calling for EAS to be defunded.
Schumer – who’s been referred to as the “Uncle of Jet Blue” – has fought hard to keep the subsidy program going.
“This is the right thing for the federal government to do,” he said. “It does cost a little money, but the amount of money that comes back is much greater.”
Schumer says he and Gillibrand are committed to keeping EAS going – vowing to fight against proposed cuts.
“So far we’ve successfully resisted most of those and hopefully we’ll be able to continue to do that,” he said. “Because we need to cut a lot of places in the federal government, but job creation isn’t one of them. And Cape Air is a job creator, not only for people who work for Cape Air but for the other businesses they help grow here in the North Country.”
Also in attendance Friday were several representatives from the Tri-Lakes’ budding biotech industry, as well as Clarkson University President Tony Collins.
Biotech representatives told the senators the Lake Clear airport is critical to employees who need to travel to bigger hubs like Boston.
Collins says the Adirondack Regional Airport is a valuable service for students at his school – many of whom travel to upstate New York from across the U.S. and abroad.