Airport battling again to keep EAS eligibility

By JIM MEYER – Staff writer

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and Congressman Glenn Thompson are again taking a stand to maintain Essential Air Service eligibility for Venango Regional Airport in Franklin.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued notices of termination of Essential Air Service (EAS) eligibility to several rural community airports, including Venango Regional and airports in Bradford and DuBois.

The EAS provides subsidies to small rural airports in order to provide low-cost transportation to larger airports such as Pittsburgh International. Requirements include 10 enplanements per day and a $200 subsidy cap per passenger.

Casey and Thompson co-signed a letter that was sent to Department of Transportation secretary Elaine Chao requesting a waiver for the EAS eligibility requirements for the small airports in the

“This order is an economic gut punch to rural Pennsylvania,” Casey said in the letter. “Our communities need reliable air service in order to have a fair shot at attracting businesses and improving commerce, yet the administration has pulled the rug right out from under them.”

“A strong, growing economy with reliable transportation is key to the success of rural Pennsylvania,” Casey said. “The federal government needs to be doing more to support rural Pennsylvania’s economy, not turning its back on our communities.”

Tim Brooks, the chairman of the Venango County commissioners, said that requesting this kind of waiver is routine and no cause for alarm.

“This is an ongoing problem we’ve had,” Brooks said, adding that the airport has consistently had to request a waiver for failing to meet the requirements of the EAS program.

“We’re working with the carrier to increase ridership,” Brooks said. “We’ve worked out a lot with problems we can fix here. Some others are out of our control.”

Brooks said most of the funding for EAS comes from foreign air carriers flying through American air space, not from U.S. tax dollars.

Venango Regional Airport manager Bill Buchna said the airport is in an ongoing improvement process and that one of the struggles has been finding a carrier company that can help meet the needs of the EAS requirements.

“We had a new carrier come in, and then that carrier was purchased by Southern Airways,” Buchna said. “Southern Airways has come a long way. It has shown a great level of commitment to the EAS market.”

Buchna added that the airport will continue to operate regardless of the waiver situation.

Thompson said he also is confident the airport will continue to improve as a valuable commodity to the region.

“Understanding that it takes time to rebuild the market every time a new air carrier begins service, we are hopeful the Secretary will use the authority Congress provided to ensure commercial flights will continue at Venango Regional Airport,” Thompson said. “The local airport has been diligently working with the Pittsburgh airport, the commonwealth, and local economic development agencies to bring appealing flight options that make sense for business and recreational travel.”