Proposed federal budget cuts could hurt Hattiesburg-Laurel Airport

Proposed federal budget cuts could hurt Hattiesburg-Laurel Airport

JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - The Trump Administration is looking to cut subsidies for air service to small, rural airports, including the Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport.

The administration's proposed 2018 fiscal budget would eliminate the decades-old Essential Air Service (EAS) Program.

It provides subsidies to air carriers to guarantee service to under-served communities.

Tom Heanue, the executive director of the Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport, said the subsidies are needed, for passenger convenience and economic development.

"Where most of our money is made is in the general aviation, that's the private pilots and the business people that house here," said Heanue. "So, we'd lose a little bit of money, we'd lose a little bit of our services, we'd have to restructure, but (it would be) sad for the people of the Pine Belt."

"There are a lot of people who don't mind driving to New Orleans or Jackson or Gulfport to fly, but you've got to understand that there's a lot of people in our community that don't have a vehicle to drive that far and so, we're an option for them and we're an economical option now, our service is very good, our service is very reliable," Heanue said.

The airport currently offers daily flights to Dallas, but beginning this summer, it will add a flight to Chicago.

The Essential Air Service Program costs taxpayers about $175 million each year.

About 150 communities are served by it, including Hattiesburg-Laurel, Greenville, Meridian and Tupelo.

Heanue believes the program will survive, but it will probably be considered for elimination again next year.

"I think it will, but I think, though, for the next four years, every year, it's going to be coming up," he said.