Essential Air Service on the chopping block

Trump's budget affecting Muskegon County airport

MUSKEGON, MICH. - One of the many domestic programs that would be cut in President Trump's budget proposal is a something called the essential air service.

Money from the U.S. Department of Transportation subsidizes airline flights to airports in areas of the country, that otherwise would not get the service.

The Essential Air Service provides money to airlines serving nine communities in Michigan including Muskegon.

Those federal dollars are used to subsidize 26-flights a week to and from the Muskegon County airport.

On average each year around 37,000 passengers connect with, or arrive from Chicago's O'hare airport flying on United Airlines.

"We have about a $2.4-million dollar subsidy that is helping to make the flights economically viable right now," said Jeffrey Tripp, Muskegon County Airport Manager.

Without the subsidy United might drop service to Muskegon because the connection doesn't make money.

Federal Essential Air Service dollars are used by five airports in the U.P.  Locally the money is used in Muskegon, Ludington, and Manistee. 

"We have been on the EAS program for a relatively short period of time," said Tripp.

"Our goal is to work with our air carriers and continue to try and improve our passenger numbers so we can actually get back off the program again and operate subsidy free." 

The airport markets its' competitive ticket pricing and the added value of convenience.

"When you come from a small airport like Muskegon they are easy to get in and out." said Tripp.

"We will be watching as the budget process continues over the coming months and then see what the impacts are."

United's EAS funds run out early in 2018.

The Essential Air Service costs the federal government at least $250 million dollars a year.

Almost 30-percent of the communities that receive the funding for flights are in Alaska.

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