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September 15, 2020

Trone aims to restore federal aid to Hagerstown airport

U.S. Rep. David Trone, D-Md., and two Republican colleagues introduced a bill Friday in an effort to restore Essential Air Service funding for Hagerstown Regional Airport and five other regional airports across the country.

Southern Airways stopped providing flights between the local airport and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, as well as Pittsburgh International Airport, in mid-October after the U.S. Department of Transportation declared the airport was no longer eligible for Essential Air Service subsidies.

In April, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., denied a petition to review the transportation department’s decision. The Washington County Board of Commissioners and the airport had filed the petition.

The proposed legislation would restore the federal subsidy for at least one year, according to a copy of the bill provided by Trone’s office. The aid would be reinstated for the longer of a year or the period in which the airport meets qualifying criteria for Essential Air Service.

The bill did not appear online Friday on the congressional website Congress.gov, but a spokeswoman for Trone’s office said it was introduced Friday. The bill will not show up at that website until it is assigned a number, which typically takes one business day, according to spokeswoman Hannah Muldavin.

“The Hagerstown Regional Airport is vital to the people, businesses, and economy of Washington County and all of Western Maryland,” Trone said in a prepared statement. “By reinstating Hagerstown and other similar airports into the Essential Air Service program, we can ensure that these communities receive a boost in economic activity and connectivity that will allow them to continue to grow and thrive.”

Trone is running for re-election on Nov. 3 in the Congressional 6th District.

His challengers, Republican Neil Parrott and Green Party candidate George Gluck, could not be reached Friday for comment.

“COVID-19 has severely impacted our airport and this legislation would provide much needed funding,” Washington County Commissioners President Jeff Cline said in a news release issued by Trone’s office.

“COVID-19 has devastated the airline industry and our local economy, and being able to be reinstated into the EAS Program would be a huge benefit to our economy,” Airport Director Garrison Plessinger said in the same release. “Convenient and affordable access to air travel will help our businesses rebuild after this pandemic.”

To be eligible for the federal subsidies, a community must average at least 10 enplanements (a person getting on a plane) per service day, according to a federal transportation orders. A community can get a waiver, as Hagerstown did for several years, if it demonstrates it is not meeting that threshold because of a temporary decline in enplanements.

The DOT also is prohibited from granting the subsidy when it averages more than $200 per passenger.

During fiscal 2018, Hagerstown averaged 7.9 enplanements per day, and the subsidy amounted to $355 per passenger, according to statistics included with the order.

County officials’ argument to maintain the federal subsidy included that DOT should have considered fiscal 2019 statistics when the airport reportedly averaged 10 enplanements.

In addition to the airport north of Hagerstown, the proposed Restoring Essential Service to Small Airports Act aims to restore federal aid to regional airports in Kansas, New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Wyoming.

The bill’s cosponsors are U.S. Reps. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., and Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., according to the news release.