Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Keep Funding for Rural Hawai‘i Airports
Following President Donald Trumpʻs recent budget request, Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) have introduced a measure to prevent proposed cuts to air service which could affect over 170 small airports nationwide, including in Kohala and Kalaupapa.
The Keeping Our Commitment to Essential Air Service (EAS) Act would reauthorize program funding through 2022.
Sen. Hirono said EAS provides reliable, affordable air transportation for some 20,000 people in Hawai‘i, including communities like Kalaupapa and Waimea.
“President Trump’s deep cuts to EAS would critically impact individuals in these communities who depend on air travel to get the health care they need and support local commerce and jobs,” said Hirono. “This is why I introduced this bill with Senator Sullivan–helping to ensure our rural residents and their families continue to have access to air service which is their lifeline.”
“Aviation is absolutely essential to reaching the many remote communities across Alaska’s vast, geographically diverse territory,” said Sen. Sullivan. “Essential Air Service provides the only means of transportation for residents in more than 60 Alaska communities—more than one-third of the communities served nationwide. There are no roads or highways connecting these Americans to the rest of the country—just an airstrip. We must work to maintain this strong and safe aviation network which supports jobs and economic opportunities for Americans living in rural areas.”
EAS was established by Congress to ensure small communities would continue to receive passenger service from air carriers after the industry was deregulated in the 1970s. Under President Trumpʻs Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget proposal, rural airports could be forced to close or suspend service. The proposed budget cuts to EAS represent over half of the programʻs total funding.
The EAS Act reauthorizes the $175 million in annual funding which is currently appropriated by Congress to continue through 2022. EAS funding is currently set to expire on September 30, 2017.
“Air transportation is Kalaupapa’s lifeline to the outside world – not only for us residents who need to travel for medical needs and to conduct personal business in Honolulu, but also to see our families and to allow family members and friends to visit us and pay respects to the graves of their relatives who died here,” said Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa, president of Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa. “We fully support Senator Hirono’s bill to reauthorize the Essential Air Service program which will ensure air travel continues to be available for Kalaupapa residents and appreciate her longstanding leadership in support of our community.”
“The Essential Air Service program has been critical to maintaining Waimea-Kohala Airport as a gateway for Kohala District communities to the rest of our state,” said Dale Suezaki, chair of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce. “We fully support Senator Hirono’s bill to save the program from proposed cuts and thank her for standing up for our communities who rely on the airport to access potentially life-saving medical services as well as support local businesses and jobs.”
Currently, Kalaupapa and Waimea-Kohala Airports receive subsidized air services under EAS from Makani Kai Air and Mokulele Airlines, respectively. In 2016, an estimated 11,000 passengers flew on Makani Kai Air from Kalaupapa and 9,000 flew Mokulele Airlines from Waimea.