By Tim Leeds 

EAS funding saved through 2015, Sen. Baucus says


Montana's senior senator announced Tuesday that a conference committee has saved the funding for the federal program providing air service to Havre and other communities through 2015.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., founding chairman of the Senate Essential Air Service Caucus, said in a release Tuesday that the conference committee working on the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization reached a bipartisan compromise to continue full authorization of EAS through 2015. The bill also authorizes funding for the Airport Improvement Program, which provided grants to 34 airports across Montana last year.

EAS subsidizes airline flights to small communities where the companies could not operate at a profit.

The cities served with EAS flights in Montana are Havre, Glasgow, Lewistown, Miles City, Sidney, West Yellowstone and Wolf Point. Silver Airways, formerly Gulf Stream, serves those communities.

EAS flights to and from Butte recently have been approved.

The House-passed FAA reauthorization bill eliminated funding for EAS, while the Senate version preserved it. Tuesday's conference committee report includes full FAA reauthorization, including EAS, through Fiscal Year 2012. The report will now be sent to the House for a full vote and then to the Senate for final passage before becoming law.

Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., joined other lawmakers in sending a letter to the House committee chairmen and ranking members who oversee EAS funding, urging them to restore funding.

"We've got to reauthorize the FAA to ensure Montana's airport improvement projects stay on track, but I hope we can do it without sacrificing rural communities, " Rehberg said in a release before the conference committee restored the funding. "This isn't about political party — in fact, both sides are wrong in this case — it's about understanding and addressing the unique challenges of living in a rural state like Montana. What we need is a long-term fix that protects Essential Air Service and fulfills a promise that was made to our rural communities. That's what we asked them to do in our letter. "


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