IRONWOOD (AP) – A federal program that subsidizes commercial air service for small towns and rural communities across the lower 48 states is struggling to remain aloft.

The program began in 1978 after the government deregulated the airlines. It gives carriers a financial incentive not to drop lightly traveled routes that lose money.

Conservatives say the $200 million program is wasteful, while supporters say it’s a lifesaver for rural economies. Now, they say it’s more vulnerable than ever as Congress tries to reduce the budget deficit.

The House has voted to phase out the program, known as “Essential Air Service.” The Senate would spare it but tighten eligibility criteria in ways that could disqualify some airports. About 110 presently benefit from the subsidies.

The two chambers are negotiating the program’s future. 

Eight community airports in Michigan rely on federal subsidies under the Essential Air Service program:
   -Alpena County Regional Airport, $1,532,660.
   -Delta County Airport (Escanaba), $2,090,534.
   -Houghton County Memorial Airport (Houghton/Hancock), $1,404,714.
   -Ford Airport (Iron Mountain/Kingsford), $2,090,534.
   -Gogebic-Iron County Airport (Ironwood), $1,492,865.
   -Manistee County Blacker Airport (Manistee), $1,799,395.
   -Muskegon County Airport (Muskegon), $660,720.
   -Chippewa County International Airport (Sault Ste. Marie), $237,825.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.


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