Commercial Aviation: Effects of Changes to the Essential Air Service Program, and Stakeholders Views on Benefits, Challenges, and Potential Reforms

Congress established the Essential Air Service (EAS) program as part of the 1978 deregulation of the U.S. airline industry. Through the EAS program, the Department of Transportation (DOT) provides subsidies to airlines to make service available to communities that airlines would otherwise not serve. Since 2010, several statutory changes have limited eligibility for EAS subsidies by, among other things, changing eligibility requirements. In spite of these changes, program costs have continued to rise, prompting questions about whether additional modifications should be made. A provision in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018 directed the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine several aspects of the EAS program. This report discusses, among other objectives, (1) how federal laws enacted since 2010 have affected air service to communities funded through the program; and (2) challenges that communities and air carriers face with EAS, and options for reform. GAO reviewed relevant federal laws, DOT orders, and DOT program data. GAO also interviewed representatives, such as airport managers and local government officials, from 17 communities that have participated in EAS; representatives from 10 of the 11 air carriers that participate in the program; and DOT officials. This report focuses on the EAS program as it operates in the contiguous United States, as there are different rules for EAS in Alaska and Hawaii.


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Features: Appendices; Figures; Maps; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 41p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01725626
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: GAO-20-74
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Dec 20 2019 4:17PM