The EAS Is Why You Can Fly to Santa Fe, NM

I often wonder how Cape Air, a commuter airline operating throughout the Midwest, Northeast and Caribbean, can continuously fly from St. Louis, MO to Cape Girardeau, MO and still make money.  I do the same thing with routes like Dallas, TX to Columbia, MO or Denver, CO to Salina, KS.  They just don’t seem practical.  The three routes I just mentioned above aren’t the only routes I question.  For example, these are all cities with commercial airline service; Bemidji, MN, Glendive, MT, Moab, UT, Chadron, NE and Show Low, AZ.  Chances are, you never knew those cities existed.  I don’t blame you either.  Bemidji sounds like an Icelandic volcano that would delay trans-Atlantic flights.

The Essential Air Service is the reason why flights between Minneapolis and Bemidji are a real possibility.  Without it, numerous cities would lose commercial air service altogether.

Bemidji Regional Airport

Bemidji Regional Airport

49 U.S.C. §§ 41731–41748; Essential Air Service

Ah, numbers and stuff!  Gotta love em’.  That series of number and letters above is the precise legislation that allowed for the commencement of Essential Air Service.  Once that piece of legislation was signed into law, numerous small cities across the United States received their first commercial flights in history.  The Essential Air Service is essentially government subsidies provided to airlines who serve small communities in order to make commercial air service viable.


Cape Air Cessna 402s; (Image: Cape Air)

Essential Air Service Airlines Include: American Airlines, Cape Air, Air Choice One, Alaska Airlines, Skywest Airlines d.b.a. Delta Air Lines

Following Airline Deregulation, a piece of legislation signed into law in 1978, there was uncertainty regarding deregulation’s impact on smaller cities and airports.  To accompany deregulation, the Essential Air Service bill was passed.  Today, the federal government allots $300 million annually (possibly more) to provide smaller communities with air service.

Essential Air Service actually serves quite a few more routes than you’d think.  35 states feature at least one route with EAS subsidized air service and most Americans don’t even know that U.S airlines were government subsidized.

Full List of EAS Cities Here (excludes Alaska and Hawaii)

Personally, I believe that the Essential Air Service is just that, essential.  Without, major communities would lose vital links to commerce.  Without the service, cities like Cape Giredau, Missouri and Salina, Kansas would lose their commercial air service.  Residents of Cape Giredau, Missouri would have to drive nearly 2 hours to catch a plane while residents of Salina would have to drive 3 hours.  Of course, there are a few cities receiving the subsidized service that are questionable candidates.  Still, the Essential Air Service provides a direct link to commerce to small–isolated communities.

-The most subsidized EAS route is Northern Maine Airport to Boston-Logan


Millions of Americans benefit from Essential Air Service every month and most of them, don’t even know their most frequented route is subsidized.  Some routes receive as little as $10 per passenger while some routes have received $800 per passenger.  Though, you wouldn’t know it.  Even if you search your ticket, receipt or itinerary, you won’t find the subsidy marked on any of those documents.

If you’re a fiscal conservative you might be so angry at the fact that the federal government allots $300+ million to [non] Essential Air Service.  If you’re a fiscal liberal, you might think that this program makes sense [just like every other government program].  Regardless of your political and fiscal affiliation or preference, just imagine what your commute, your vacation, what travel would be like if you had to drive hours just to catch a plane.

-Read more about the Essential Air Service program here