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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Legislator urges inclusion of PR’s small airports in federal program

By John McPhaul

In order to stimulate air traffic at the island’s regional airports after the passage of Hurricane Fiona, the New Progressive Party minority leader in the House of Representatives, Carlos “Johnny” Méndez Nuñez, is proposing the inclusion of Puerto Rico in the federal program known as Essential Air Service (EAS).

“The regional airports in Puerto Rico have great potential for development; what we need is a boost to achieve it,” Méndez Nuñez said on Sunday. “In addition, during an emergency such as Hurricane Fiona two weeks ago, they can serve as emergency airports for cargo and passengers. That is why we are asking Congress to approve the EAS immediately, as an assistance measure in the face of Fiona’s passage.”

The EAS is a federal program that provides economic subsidies and funds to guarantee flight operations at regional airports throughout the United States and its jurisdictions, as would be the case with Puerto Rico.

“This federal program would directly help municipalities, as in the case of Ponce, Vieques, Culebra and Mayagüez, among others, to maintain a commercial air service, subsidizing part of the small air operations -- with 20 or fewer seats -- at those airports, as well as cargo transportation, as is currently the case in the states of Alaska and Hawaii,” the legislator said. That is why it is important to have the service urgently.”

As detailed by Méndez Nuñez, the EAS will make it possible for more airlines to establish their operations in regional airports such as Antonio Rivera Rodríguez in the island municipality of Vieques, Eugenio María de Hostos in Mayagüez, as well as Benjamín Rivera in Culebra, among others, because the federal government would pay for available seats on unsold flights.

Small airlines operating from airports with international designations or major operations, such as Merceditas in Ponce, José Aponte de la Torre in Ceiba, and Rafael Hernández in Aguadilla, would also benefit from the program.

“After the passage of Hurricane Fiona, regional airports have become very important,” said the District 36 representative (Río Grande, Luquillo, Fajardo, Ceiba, Vieques and Culebra). “We are confident that the members of Congress will welcome this proposal that would create new jobs for our people, and encourage the establishment of new small and midsize businesses, as well as generate economic activity for the municipalities through more air traffic.”

In accordance with current regulations, the federal transportation secretary may make exceptions to the criteria for a jurisdiction or municipality to qualify for the EAS program.

Currently, a considerable number of regional airlines, notably Cape Air, Boutique Air and Southern Express Airways, among others, have developed their operations on routes endorsed by the EAS program with aircraft with a capacity of up to 20 passengers.

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