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How the New FAA Reauthorization Impacts Small Community Air Service

The new legislation includes some changes for subsidized air service in small communities.

An American CRJ-200 in Charlotte (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

On Thursday, President Biden signed the bipartisan FAA reauthorization bill into law. Within the legislation are sweeping changes to aviation infrastructure across the U.S., including additional air traffic controllers, consumer protections for airline passengers, and much more.

Buried deep inside the 1,068-page act are new stipulations for the Federal Government’s Essential Air Service (EAS) and Small Community Air Service Development (SCASDP) programs. These Department of Transportation (DOT)-administered programs provide federal funding to small, typically rural communities that airlines otherwise wouldn’t typically serve.

New requirements will add guardrails on how and when air carriers can exit EAS markets. In addition, communities within the program can now petition the DOT to terminate carriers that do not provide adequate service. These changes are part of broader updates to both programs, which include additional funding.

Leaving EAS Communities

In March 2022, SkyWest – the country’s largest regional operator – requested to end service to 29 Essential Air Service communities around the U.S., citing pilot supply issues. This largely unprecedented move grabbed the attention of local community leaders and some congressional members alike.

Airlines who choose to terminate service to an EAS community during the contract period will now face additional penalties. Under previous rules, the air carrier would be required to provide 90 days’ notice of its intentions to terminate service. With the new law in place, that notice period is 140 days.

A SkyWest Airlines Bombardier CRJ-700 aircraft on final approach at O’Hare International Airport. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The DOT does compensate airlines should they be required to continue operating in the community after the notice period. However, this is only done until a replacement carrier can be found.

With the new legislation, the DOT will now have broader authority to insert language on “termination penalties or conditions on compensation” into EAS contracts should a carrier opt to exit a community, reduce or suspend service.

Communities Gain More Oversight

In the past, communities had little to no recourse should an airline provide lackluster service or be unable to meet standards in the contract. New language now gives community leaders more of a voice.

A petition process is now in place; representatives can submit a ‘no confidence’ review request to the DOT of an air carrier’s service. The law provides the following criteria in order to make such a request:

  • “is unwilling or unable to meet the operational specifications outlined in the order issued by the Secretary specifying the terms of basic essential air service to such place;
  • is experiencing reliability challenges with the potential to adversely affect air service to such place; or
  • is no longer able to provide service to such place at the rate of compensation specified by the Secretary.”

After receiving the petition, the agency will have two months to review it and determine whether the carrier is fulfilling the contract’s terms. The DOT will then either terminate the contract or allow the carrier to continue service.

Other Updates

Congress wants to study the overall cost of the EAS program and has enlisted the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study. In addition, the federal government will conduct a study of communities that lost air service, including any subsequent economic damages.

The SCASDP is also slated to receive approximately $5 million in additional funding per fiscal year. This program provides funding to smaller airports to attract new airlines with subsidized air service development.

Ryan Ewing
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  • Ryan Ewing

    Ryan founded AirlineGeeks.com back in February 2013 and has amassed considerable experience in the aviation sector. His work has been featured in several publications and news outlets, including CNN, WJLA, CNET, and Business Insider. During his time in the industry, he's worked in roles pertaining to airport/airline operations while holding a B.S. in Air Transportation Management from Arizona State University along with an MBA. Ryan has experience in several facets of the industry from behind the yoke of a Cessna 172 to interviewing airline industry executives. Ryan works for AirlineGeeks' owner FLYING Media, spearheading coverage in the commercial aviation space.

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