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Essential Air Service vital to local flights

WILLIAMSTOWN — If Essential Air Service is eliminated as proposed in President Donald Trump’s budget plan, it could spell the end of commercial flights at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport.

“More than likely, it would mean the loss of service,” airport Manager Jeff McDougle said.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Essential Air Service subsidizes flights to 115 communities in the contiguous 48 states that would otherwise have no service.

Eliminating the program would save an estimated $175 million, according to the administration. About $1.9 million of that is allocated to subsidize ViaAir’s service between the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport and Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

But McDougle isn’t sounding the death knell for the program yet.

“This is not the first time that the president’s proposed budget has proposed killing Essential Air Service,” he said.

Matthew Macri, vice president of operations for Florida-based Via, agreed.

“We have a wait-and-see attitude,” he said. “We are hopeful that the EAS program, as it affects Parkersburg, will remain intact.”

The MOVRA’s service came into question recently after the DOT began enforcing in 2014 a provision capping subsidies at $200 per seat unless a community was more than 210 miles from the nearest large- or medium-hub airport.

The local airport is closer

than that to Columbus and its subsidy in recent years has exceeded the $210 threshold, but officials sought and were granted a waiver for the 2014-15 fiscal year based on unreliable service from previous carrier Silver Airways.

Wood County Commissioner Bob Tebay, a member of the Wood County Airport Authority, said Essential Air Service is exactly what its name says — essential.

“I think we’d be severely handicapped, especially with the prospect of getting some new development,” without commercial air service, he said.

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce said loss of the program would be bad for the Mid-Ohio Valley.

“A healthy airport … provides for a better business environment, a better economic environment,” he said.

Macri declined to comment on whether loss of the subsidy would end Via’s service at the local airport. Via also flies under EAS at airports in Beckley, Clarksburg and Lewisburg in West Virginia.

“A cut to this program would greatly impact West Virginia,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said in an emailed statement. “Now is not the time to gut a program that benefits our state’s tourism industry, small businesses and the overall economy, and I will do everything in my power to prevent it.”

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