Small airports worthy of federal assistance

Published 8:14 am Wednesday, June 20, 2007

By Staff
(This editorial orginally appeared in The Daily Reflector of Greenville.)
Congress is expected to make a determination this year over curtailing public subsidies to small airports. The arguments are interesting.
The Associated Press analysis of the proposed major changes says that funds from taxes and fees paid by passengers amounting to billions of dollars have been awarded to small airports used mostly by private pilots or corporate jets. It points to specific projects which received funds that may have been due to political influence.
Well, the pork barrel aspect of this is wrong, just as most such congressional projects are usually not money well spent. The answer to this is simple — stop doing it. Make every project stand on its own merit. If some representatives are bothered by this, so be it. Congressional leaders who can’t enforce this, should reconsider their priorities.
It should be noted that none of North Carolina’s airports was included in the AP’s list of favored small airports receiving funds. It is likely that most small airports are not so favored. They are a necessary part of maintaining an effective national air passenger and transport system. Some have scheduled service which is important in moving travelers to the large airports that presumably hope to benefit from the proposals being considered.
Yet here in eastern North Carolina it is clear that our airports provide service in every way.
Regular commercial service is available at Pitt-Greenville, New Bern and Jacksonville. These airports presumably provide service to private aircraft, too.
Pitt-Greenville now has some jet service which it is hoped will build passenger numbers. Even more important, the Greenville metropolitan area is experiencing rapid growth which should mean growth in use of the airport.
Air service, both passenger and commercial, is vital to communities in eastern North Carolina. In Greenville, for instance, there is a regular stream of visitors coming here for various events held on the East Carolina University campus. And the Pitt County Development Commission is seeking to attract new industry to provide new jobs and economic improvement. Air service is critical to this initiative.
No doubt the same is true for other growing eastern counties.
The FAA is considering dropping many passenger taxes. They would be replaced with stiffer fuel taxes and user fees. There is significant opposition to that proposal from pilots’ groups, business aviation groups and small plane manufacturers, the AP reported.
It’s too soon to draw conclusions as to how any of these proposed changes would affect eastern North Carolina’s smaller airports. But at this point, it doesn’t appear that they would be helped at all.
Those in Congress who determine such things must understand that smaller airports of the nation often provide a vital service to their communities and the region. It is a service that can’t be provided without reasonable revenues.