Bill To Fund Air Service Approved

The Chautauqua County Jamestown Airport in early January after Southern Airways left. Boutique Air has applied to provide air service at the airport. P-J file photo

U.S. Senators Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., have announced the passing of a five-year Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill that includes funding for both the Essential Air Service (EAS) program and the Airport Improvement Program (AIP).

Five airports in New York receive EAS funding, while Chautauqua County Jamestown Airport is in the process of reapplying to regain its EAS status.

In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation terminated the EAS agreement locally due to a lack of passengers. Shortly after, Southern Airways left the Chautauqua County Jamestown Airport because of the EAS funding cut.

The EAS program, which requires 10 passengers to fly each day, began after the deregulation of the airline industry in 1978. The program helps subsidize flights to smaller markets, such as Jamestown.

Southern Airways passenger counts fell to an average of four per day, far fewer than the requirement of 10. The county airport also had trouble meeting the EAS program requirement that subsidies be less than $200 per passenger, with subsidy-per-passenger numbers of $630, which ranked among the highest in the nation before the contract was terminated.

In May, it was announced that Boutique Airways had submitted a proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide air service to the Chautauqua County Jamestown Airport under the EAS program, which provides essential funding for small airports. George Borrello, county executive, said he appreciates the work being done by the senators to return Jamestown to the EAS program with Boutique Airlines.

“At this point, we are still awaiting a decision from the U.S. (Department of Transportation),” Borrello said. “Congressman (Tom) Reed’s office has been in regular communication with us while they proactively advocate, on our behalf, with EAS officials. Despite the delay, I am still confident that we will see a positive result with all of this support.”

According to the Boutique Air’s application with the U.S. Department of Transportation, the business is betting that quality of service, not destination, is the reason other airlines have failed in the Chautauqua County Jamestown Airport. Boutique Air’s EAS application states they would provide Jamestown flights connecting to the Pittsburgh International Airport, a destination used by Sun Air. The 16-page document lays out Boutique Air’s proposal to succeed where other air providers in Jamestown have failed. The joint application from the county and Boutique Air includes admissions from the county that more must be done to make sure Boutique Air, if approved as an EAS provider, meets the federal government’s goals for the program.

Specifically, the bill passed Friday states the EAS program was reauthorized at an average of $163 million, and the AIP was reauthorized for $3.35 billion each fiscal year. The Schumer and Gillibrand stated in a news release Wednesday the EAS program supports commercial air service at small airports by ensuring they have regularly scheduled commercial flights to large or medium-hub airports, linking passengers to the National Air Transportation System. Additionally, the senators said the AIP provides funding to public agencies to upgrade and improve public-use airports.

“Ensuring that all Upstate airports have the resources they need to thrive is crucial to safe travel for residents and visitors and attracting business, which is why I fought so hard to preserve the Essential Air Service and Airport Improvement Programs in the FAA Reauthorization bill,” Schumer said. “These two critical programs provide grant funding to make necessary infrastructure upgrades and to support commercial air service at regional airports serving small communities. I was proud to fight for authorizations for these programs, and will fight to keep them fully funded through the appropriations process.”