The Senate is scheduled to vote on the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill this week, and the future of subsidies for rural airports is at stake.
Arizona Senator John McCain, a Republican, has proposed to cut the Essential Air Service program, which provides federal funds for airports in rural areas.
Here in the North Country, airports in Lake Clear, Plattsburgh, Massena, Ogdensburg, and Watertown depend on the EAS program to maintain operations.
At the same time, a Democratic senator has introduced legislation to dramatically expand the program. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia says an additional $73 million should be provided for Essential Air Service.
Last week, North Country Congressman Bill Owens condemned both the McCain and Rockefeller proposals.
Owens said ending the program was misguided, noting the good it does for the economy in places like Saranac Lake and Plattsburgh. But he also said expanding it was foolish as lawmakers look for ways to save money.
With a vote on both proposals now looming, the two democratic senators from New York say they'll oppose the McCain measure. Additionally, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand plan to support the Rockefeller proposal that would increase essential air funding by some $73 million.
Schumer says access to air travel is good for business and job growth in the North Country. He says the McCain amendment would cut off entire communities from air service.
"Without reliable airports in these rural communities, businesses and jobs will suffer," Schumer said. "I will fight this tooth and nail to make sure that upstate New Yorkers have access to reliable, affordable air travel."
According to Schumer, ending the EAS program would cut off access to places like Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake and the ALCOA plant in Massena.
Senator Gillibrand says access to air travel is critical for an economy struggling to recover from a recession.
"The EAS program is a vital lifeline for smaller airports across rural New York," she said. "It promotes economic growth and job creation in many communities that desperately need it."
Currently, the two airports serving the Tri-Lakes region - the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear and the Lake Placid Airport - receive nearly $1.36 million in federal subsidies.
The Plattsburgh International Airport - which has doubled its capacity in recent years - gets about $1.38 million through the Essential Air Service program.
Combined, the airports in Massena and Ogdensburg get more than $2.6 million from the federal government.
The EAS program debuted more than three decades ago following the deregulation of the airline industry.
According to Senator Schumer, deregulation led to a "scarcity" of air service in rural areas across the nation. The federal subsidy program for small airports secured that access to air travel in more than 140 communities, Schumer says.