The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced a plan to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on air carriers participating in the Essential Air Service (EAS) program. The Department issued a Notice to all EAS air carriers on April 29 indicating how those carriers may adjust their schedules and seek compensation due to the significant reduction in passenger demand and the financial impact on air carriers.
The Department’s plan authorizes payment of 50 percent of the contracted per-flight subsidy for flights that are not operated, so long as an EAS air carrier serving a community in the continental United States, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico completes at least one round trip flight a day, six days a week, for that EAS community, and an EAS air carrier serving a community in Alaska completes at least 50 percent of its weekly schedule for that EAS community.
In addition, the Department will not initiate enforcement action against EAS air carriers for failing to comply with the statutory level-of-service requirements in situations where the noncompliance takes place during the effective period of the notice, the significant reduction in passenger demand due to the COVID-19 public health emergency was the cause of the noncompliance, the EAS air carrier complies with the level-of-service requirements provided in the Notice, and the eligible communities do not object to the change in service levels.
The plan applies to all 160 communities in the United States and Puerto Rico that receive EAS subsidized service, but it does not apply to the 8 communities receiving Alternate EAS grants. This action is retroactive to March 1, 2020, and will be in effect through June 30, 2020. A community that objects to the service levels in the notice should submit a statement to the community’s EAS docket, and the Department will work with the community and EAS air carrier to address such objections on a case-by-case basis.