Addressing challenges to rural air service

Rep. Adrian Smith | Posted: Thursday, August 14, 2014 12:00 am
For rural America, access to commercial air service is more than a convenience; it helps connect us to the rest of the nation and encourages economic growth.
I have worked to maintain access to commercial air service for the Third District because of its
importance to rural communities and because maintaining transportation infrastructure is one of the primary responsibilities of the federal government.

However, this year many small airports around the country are facing a barrage of flight cancellations. At one Third District airport, 59 percent of the scheduled flights have been cancelled this year – while more than one in three flights have been cancelled at others. I have heard from many Third District residents upset about the unreliable flight schedule and its impact on travel plans and businesses.
Cancelled flights and unreliable air service cause disruptions in our local economy. Businesses and
entrepreneurs are more likely to invest and expand in communities with dependable transportation
services including aviation.
There are many causes for the flight cancellations, but certainly new federal regulations which require co-pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of flight time are contributing to the problem. It is difficult for the small regional airlines which serve rural communities, to hire and retain pilots which meet this certification. Airlines are then forced to cancel scheduled flights if they are not able to comply with this arbitrary rule.

Cancelled flights also threaten funding for small airports through the Airport Improvement Program which helps pay for projects to improve infrastructure, including runways, taxiways, noise control, navigational aids, safety, and security. To qualify for program funds, airports must reach 10,000 enplanements per year. Many small rural airports which previously qualified for the program are unlikely to reach this target because of cancelled flights.

Last week, I introduced legislation which would ensure these small airports are not penalized twice by the unintended consequences of these new rules. The Small Airport Regulatory Relief Act would
require the Federal Aviation Authority to use enplanement numbers from 2012 – before the
regulations took effect – when calculating appropriate annual funds for airports through the Airport
Improvement Program for the next two years.

While more must be done to address the underlying causes of the flight cancellations, including the
new pilot regulations, this legislation is a good first step to spare small airports from more unnecessary harm. I will continue fighting to prevent further flight cancellations to benefit travelers, communities, and to encourage rural economic growth.

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