Future of Venango Regional Airport Still Uncertain as EAS Subsidy Termination Date Looms
An order issued in August by the U.S. Department of Transportation advised that it planned to terminate the Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidy for the Venango Regional Airport as of October 18.
EAS is a federal program launched in 1978 to allow small communities to be able to maintain commercial service after airline deregulation went into effect.
Without EAS subsidies, many smaller regional airports, like Venango Regional, wouldn’t be able to support commercial flights.
However, to be eligible to be a part of the EAS subsidy program, airports are required to meet or work on efforts to increase passenger numbers of a minimum 10 per day and keep the subsidy to $200.00 per passenger or less, unless the airport is located more than 175 miles from the nearest large or medium hub airport.
Based on numbers from 2018, Venango Regional Airport averaged just 5.2 passengers per day at an average subsidy of $480.00 per passenger, and it is located just 85 miles away from the Pittsburgh International Airport.
“We were denied a waiver under the EAS program,” Venango County Commissioner Vince Witherup told exploreClarion.com.
“We’ve appealed the decision through everyone that we can. It’s under review right now, but as it stands, we’re in danger of losing service on October 18.
“Hopefully, they’ll rescind the order and give us a waiver.”
The Venango County Commissioners aren’t the only officials who are pushing back against the ruling.
U.S. Representative Glenn “GT” Thompson told exploreClarion.com that two weeks ago he was “fortunate to sit down with Joel Szabat, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Acting Undersecretary for Policy.”
Szabat manages the Essential Air Service and Small Community Air Service Development grant programs for the federal government.
The purpose of the meeting was to assess the process that was used to make a determination to end Venango Regional Airport’s participation in the EAS program that was communicated to the county back in August.
Thompson said that ending program eligibility would undoubtedly bring commercial air service to a halt.
“As a strong proponent for keeping our region connected to the national transportation system, I made the case that the airport is an economic engine for the county, and airport utilization is better this year than the previous.
“While the Undersecretary cannot speak to the county’s appeal while it is under review, I did appreciate him making the time to learn about the most recent passenger counts and information that may have not been considered by the Department of Transportation when making their initial review.”
According to Thompson, he has received an assurance the county will receive a fair review.
“I remain hopeful that the Department will take updated data into consideration when making their final determination. I will remain on top of this issue and hope to work in further conjunction with Venango County’s elected officials, the Oil Region Alliance, and Southern Airways to make the case to the Department of Transportation that air service at (Franklin) is valued and necessary,” Thompson added.
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