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Rural Airports Face Budget Cuts

A SkyWest Brasilia turboprop lifts off at the airport in Cedar City, Utah, where the federal government spends close to $800,000 a year to subsidize passenger air service.
Howard Berkes, NPR /
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A SkyWest Brasilia turboprop lifts off at the airport in Cedar City, Utah, where the federal government spends close to $800,000 a year to subsidize passenger air service.

The Bush administration proposes slashing $63 million in federal subsidies that help maintain air service to rural communities. Congress established the subsidy 25 years ago, when airlines were deregulated, prompting carriers to consider dumping unprofitable routes to rural communities. The subsidy was due to expire after 10 years, but powerful supporters in Congress have kept it alive. NPR's Howard Berkes reports.

President Bush's proposal would cut the subsidy by more than half. Twenty-three communities would lose their subsidy entirely, because they're within 100 miles of a hub airport. Eighty-two others would have to pay a portion of the subsidy themselves, depending upon their distance from an airline hub.

The cost for the university, tourist and manufacturing town of Cedar City, Utah, would be $200,000. That would force the community to either cut other city services or raise taxes, Mayor Gerald Sherratt says. Taxes are already high, he says, and services are not easily cut. But, Sherratt adds, shutting off air service is not an option.

SkyWest Airlines connects Cedar City with a Delta Air Lines hub in Salt Lake City. That's a 45-minute flight instead of a four-hour drive. And the air service is a key catalyst to local economic growth. "When we go out and we're recruiting Industry or we're talking to the manufacturers that currently exist here… it's critical to them," says Clark Krause, the city's economic development director.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.