Airport managers discuss possibility of federal funding loss

ESCANABA — “To not have a commercial airline in your community, your economic development and the growth in your community depends on this airline being here,” said Kelly Smith, manager of the Delta County Airport.

The Upper Peninsula doesn’t have a major airport hub like Detroit or Minneapolis. Many airports depend on Essential Air Service, or EAS, to fly people to bigger airports.

President Trump’s proposed budget calls for an elimination in EAS funding across the nation, cutting $175 million altogether. Tim Howen, who manages the Ford Airport in Kingsford, says losing that funding would be devastating.

“What would happen over time, if we didn’t have the air carrier, our runway, which is up for repaving this year, but stuff like that would deteriorate,” he said.

Howen says 98% of people who fly out of Dickinson County is because of the EAS program. If that’s eliminated, the future of many small rural airports, including several in the U.P. could be at stake.

And that could mean bad news for the economy.

“We’ve finally after many, many years of being economically distressed, just this year Dickinson County has been able to come off of that. I believe a lot of that is due to the new air service that we have,” said Howen.

“You can’t go out and advertise to businesses and say ‘C’mon move to Escanaba. We’ve got a great workforce, education, healthcare here.’ And to not have an airport to get their clients or their business people here; They’re not going to fly to Green Bay and drive two hours north,” said Smith.

Congressman Jack Bergman released a statement about the issue, saying:

“The President’s proposed cut in funding for Essential Air Services fails to take into account communities like the ones in Michigan’s First District. This is an instance in which a one–size–fits–all approach just doesn’t work. Airports throughout the First District depend on Essential Air Services to help them boost industry, economic stability, tourism, and mobility in the Upper Peninsula and throughout the First District. I plan to work for full Essential Air Services funding as Congress moves through the budget process.”