Representatives Tulsi Gabbard, Colleen Hanabusa, and Don Young of Alaska have introduced bipartisan legislation to exempt Hawaiʻi and Alaska from regulations that threaten federal funding for the states’ Essential Air Service communities. Essential Air Service communities in Hawaiʻi include Waimea-Kohala Airport on Hawaiʻi Island, Kalaupapa Airport on Molokaʻi, and Hana Airport on Maui.
As noncontiguous states with unique reliance on air travel, Hawaiʻi and Alaska have historically been exempt from EAS eligibility requirements. However, recent appropriations legislation requires EAS communities in all states located within 40 miles from the nearest small hub airport to implement a cost-share agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation. This requirement has put federal funding for rural airports at risk, without taking into account the unique travel challenges of rural Hawaiʻi and Alaska residents. The legislation (H.R.4836) introduced Thursday would exempt Hawaiʻi and Alaska from cost-sharing requirements, protecting certain rural communities from choosing between an increased cost burden and closing their airports.
“Air transportation is an essential lifeline for people in Hawaiʻi,” said Representative Tulsi Gabbard. “Whether it be for finding a job, starting a small business, going to see a doctor, going to school, and visiting family and friends, air travel is the only option available. A national one-size-fits-all regulation on Essential Air Service eligibility fails to acknowledge Hawaiʻi’s unique travel needs and the geographical realities our residents face every single day. Our legislation would extend protections for Hawaiʻi and Alaska that Congress has long recognized and ensure our rural populations maintain access to critical transportation resources.”
“Hawaiʻi and Alaska are home to many isolated, rural communities that depend on reliable, affordable air transportation,” said Representative Colleen Hanabusa. “Our residents and visitors must be able to access air travel to do business, seek healthcare, and travel throughout Hawaiʻi and our nation. If Essential Air Service communities are forced to play by the rules of big city airports, we could lose these critical air transport hubs. Mahalo to Congresswoman Gabbard and Congressman Young for their efforts to support our rural communities.”
“When I helped create the Essential Air Service during the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, it was meant to help rural communities access mainline service to reach their destinations,” said Congressman Don Young. “Given the unique service needs and geographic distance between major and regional hubs, waiving local cost shares is just one way to help those traveling from rural areas reach mainline service. Without subsidies these routes would be extremely costly to operate and utilize which is why we must protect these EAS communities from any additional burdens.”