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Heitkamp says Trump budget plan would eliminate small airport aid

Dickinson's airport epitomizes the importance of the Essential Air Service, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said during a visit to the city Friday afternoon.

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp met with Dickinson Mayor Scott Decker and other airport and Dickinson representatives Friday afternoon. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press
U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp met with Dickinson Mayor Scott Decker and other airport and Dickinson representatives Friday afternoon. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press

Dickinson's airport epitomizes the importance of the Essential Air Service, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said during a visit to the city Friday afternoon.

EAS provides funding to airports in small communities that may not be able to otherwise support them. It is funded by a tax on foreign airlines that fly over American airspace.

"If there ever was a case for Essential Air Service, it's Dickinson, in part because maintaining what we have here is absolutely critical to keeping permanently what you have here," Heitkamp said.

She pointed out the distance to the nearest airports and the economic activity generated by oil production as two reasons to maintain this funding stream. President Donald Trump's proposed budget would eliminate the EAS.

"Essential Air Service always seems to be the first issue that comes under attack when they start discussing reauthorization of funds for the FAA and the Department of Transportation," said Kelly Braun, airport manager. "In some cases it's used as a poster child for government waste, but in the case of Dickinson and several other of the airports in North Dakota, it really sets the example for what's right with the program and really captures what the program was designed to do - which is provide service to small communities."

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Without the EAS, the Dickinson airport may not be able to maintain its commercial air traffic. Joe Nevill, of network planning for United Airlines, said United would likely not be able to otherwise serve some of the smaller communities without the EAS. It is also the only commercial carrier in Dickinson.

Kyle Wanner, director of North Dakota Aeronautics, said it is clear the EAS program works when it is fully funded, noting Williston's airport as a prime success story. But cutting the funding causes a drop in passengers to the point where it's not worth funding the program at all, he said.

"We need full funding so you can have sustainable, good airline service for long term-development of our communities," he said. "... People still need to recognize there's a lot more benefits to airports than just air service. A lot of people are being connected to Dickinson because of that airport."

According to the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, about 475 jobs in Dickinson are directly or indirectly linked to the airport. About $76 million was generated as a result, according to its 2015 executive report.

The airport will begin its plan to build a parallel taxiway and then rebuild is main runway, breaking ground in 2019, Braun said. The planning process is now underway after the approval of the environmental assessment and the airport layout plan.

He is confident the House and Senate will continue supporting the EAS given the bipartisan support in Congress. Both Heitkamp and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., support the EAS.

"There's so many issues across such a broad spectrum of our society that for Sen. Heitkamp to come here and talk about the airport, to be able to talk about infrastructure, about the needs in that area and know exactly what's going on, I think, is huge," Braun said.

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Dickinson Airport Manager Kelly Braun discusses the airport's future construction project with U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press
Dickinson Airport Manager Kelly Braun discusses the airport's future construction project with U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press

Related Topics: HEIDI HEITKAMP
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