ALAMOSA — While on his way to attend his regional representative Charlotte Bobicki’s retirement party, Senator Michael Bennet toured the recently improved San Luis Valley Regional Airport and spoke to city and county officials about how he is fighting for Essential Air Service. The current proposed federal budget eliminates the EAS subsidy, meaning airlines would no longer have an incentive to fly out of small airports.
“We would lose all commercial air service here,” said SLV Regional Airport Manager Dustin Allinger. Allinger also mentioned that having a commercial airport helps tourism in the area for places such as Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and Wolf Creek Ski Area.
“It makes a humongous impact, not only in economic development but for recruiting students at Adams State and recruiting doctors at the hospital,” added Alamosa County Administrator Gigi Dennis, pictured above with Bennet and Allinger. “It would be really devastating for our community.”
Bennet assured the group that he would do what he can to stop the advancement of both the administration’s budget and the Tax Cut and Jobs Act that passed the Senate last weekend.
“I think we have got to find a way to get all of the senators, especially those representing western states, to come together and make a case about why this is so important,” Bennet said.
If a larger aircraft could fly out of Alamosa’s airport that would solve the issue of needing an EAS subsidy; however, that is unlikely. The airport would need to reclaim their Part 139 certificate to service aircraft that can carry more than nine passengers and find a pilot. A larger plane requires a pilot to go through 1,500 hours of training and once completed they usually go to a larger airline.
A possible solution to the pilot shortage is South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune’s FAA Reauthorization Bill. The legislation was introduced over the summer and aims to lower the amount of hours needed.
Bennet said he hasn’t had the chance to study Thune’s bill but he will look into it.
“Essential Air Service is critical,” Bennet said. “Water is our lifeblood, but after that it’s EAS.”