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Possible cuts for Rutland airport

RUTLAND - Recent news about a U.S. House bill that would eliminate passenger subsidies-called essential air services or EAS-to rural airports, including the state-owned Rutland Southern Vermont Regional Airport, has some local travelers concerned about the airport's future.

In the U.S. Senate, members' own version of the controversial House bill goes in the other direction with increased funding for EAS.

The Rutland airport receives $797,000 a year in EAS funding.

Some fiscally conservative critics say the EAS funding is a form of "corporate welfare" that uses taxpayer funds to subsidize airlines like Rutland's Cape Air passenger service to Boston's Logan Airport. However, other rural airports receive triple the amount of similar EAS funding compared to Rutland.

At the Rutland airport, Massachusetts-based Cape Air is aligned with Jet Blue and, with its link between Rutland to Boston, provides cheaper passenger service to, say, Orlando, Fla., than via the Burlington and Albany international airports. Together, JetBlue and Cape Air also provide the only commercial airline service to Vermont's popular Killington recreation region.

Low fares and convenient connections from across the country have been in place at the airport since 2007.

According to the office of U.S. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), the majority of House members voted to eliminate $200 million for essential air service. Welch said he voted against the cuts. He stressed that he supports continued airline subsidies to rural airports; he said that Rutland is essential to southern Vermont.

"The Rutland regional airport has been extremely important to us. It's also been a very efficient operation. Rutland has had the greatest number of passenger enplanements, thanks to the EAS program, since 1985," Welch said.

The year 1985, was the year Precision Air, a partner with Eastern Airlines, left the Rutland airport. It was tough going during the years following Precision's departure and Eastern's final dissolution.

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