Back in August of 2009, I wrote a piece about a little known Federal program called the Essential Air Service in which the government reimburses major airlines to serve smaller rural communities. This year it runs to the tune of nearly $200 million and still our air carriers claim that they cannot make any money. Today, Delta Air Lines announced that it “can no longer afford” to serve 24 of the rural airports that they picked up in the merger with Northwest Airlines.
From what I can gather, it is not all about the corporate decisions to leave folks high and dry but the "style" in which these passengers desire plays a factor. Everybody, I guess, wishes that their airport be a modern and useful airfield, with the latest in air comfort and speed, but when you cannot fill the existing seats of the propeller type planes - then you will not fill a larger regional JET. Nor can you fly to the 29 major hubs from just Anyplace, USA and expect to get good slots in the landing pattern.
The Essential Air Service subsidies are slated to expire in 2013 unless Congress decides to extend them but in this current fiscal state I would not hold my breath on that. The current Republican strategy is to cut out anything that does not help corporations but may do some good for the common man. The highways that we cannot maintain will have to do for these 24 cities and probably a similar number next year - and the year after.
This is also just one decision made by one airline, how many more will be coming in the days ahead? Deregulation was supposed to free up the airline industry to be responsive to the market demands and to foster more competitive scheduling and pricing. The Essential Air Service subsidies were to equalize the opportunities for the rural cities which could not run with the big dogs, but also could not stay on the porch. If things continue as they have in the past five years, even the big dogs may not be running like they have been.
Many of these small cities got a big boost from the railroad systems and some of them owe it all to the railroads. These railroads brought life into a lot of places in the expanding western territories. For years they were THE way for people to come and go for long distance travel.. The automobile and the airplane helped bring those days to an end, so what is expected when these modes are no longer economically viable? When the rural areas no longer have air service and the states and federal government can no longer build and maintain the roads. What will we have then?
Other countries are considering (and building) systems of high speed rail with feeder routes of more moderate speed which connect to the more rural communities there. Somehow, that doesn't fit in with our concept of a modern world... yet.