Is the program that guarantees flights to small communities really working? Ask the Captain

What is your opinion about the Essential Air Service program? One carrier in the Northeast frequently cancels flights to some of the small towns/cities if there are only one or two passengers. It’s happened to me. 

– JJ, Bradenton, Florida

The basis for the Essential Air Service (EAS) contracts is that the operator is paid for the flight whether or not there are passengers. Usually research into why a flight was canceled reveals a more complicated answer than “there were not many passengers.”

Canceling a flight is a last resort for the operator. During inclement weather it may be necessary to reroute an aircraft to accommodate more passengers at another station, but that is usually the only time passenger load figures into the decision. If there is a maintenance issue and equipment is substituted, this is an operational decision. 

EAS has helped smaller communities for decades. Today the program is not as widespread as in the past. There are calls by some politicians to eliminate it, but I hope it remains to provide air service to communities that would require a lengthy drive to an airport otherwise. 

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