Rutland, Lebanon Airports Spared From FAA Dispute

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(Host) Airports in Rutland and West Lebanon, New Hampshire, both benefit from a federal subsidy program that’s been the subject of a bitter dispute in Washington over the past two weeks.

The quarrel has been temporarily resolved. And the airline that serves both communities says their service is strong and growing.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) A federal program called Essential Air Service has drawn the ire of Congressional Republicans.

The program subsidizes commercial air service to rural airports. A bill passed by the House would eliminate the subsidy for 13 airports. But Rutland and Lebanon were spared.

(Bonney) "The current proposal that’s part of the FAA extension language right now would affect 13 other communities in the United States, but not Rutland and not Lebanon."

(Dillon) Andrew Bonney is vice president for planning for Cape Air, the regional airline that serves both communities.

The airline flies small, nine passenger planes to Boston from Rutland and to Boston and the New York City area from Lebanon.

Bonney says ridership is increasing in both locations. Cape Air has added a non-subsidized flight to its Lebanon schedule.

(Bonney) "So we are starting to wean the Lebanon, New Hampshire, airport off of the Essential Air Service Program."

(Dillon) The Rutland subsidy is $797,000 a year, while Lebanon gets $2.3 million.

Backers of the program see it as providing a vital air link to small communities. But some in Congress see it as wasteful federal spending. And a bill that passed the House eliminates funding for airports that are within 90 miles of medium and large hub airports. Rutland and Lebanon are farther away from those bigger airports and thus were not on the hit list.

Congress deadlocked over the rural airport subsidy, and the impasse left the Federal Aviation Administration without the authority to spend money. The impasse was broken Thursday. But the two week delay in funding held up airport construction projects in Vermont.

Guy Rouelle is aviation program manager for the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

(Rouelle) "The FAA has bought off on the projects. They’re willing and able and have approved the projects, but without the final grant in hand, we’ve chosen to just hold off on three of those projects."

(Dillon) The work included construction for a perimeter fence at the state airport in Berlin, runway maintenance statewide, and a lighting project at the Springfield airport.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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