Scripps Investigation places spotlight on Essential Air Service government program

In response to a report by the Scripps National Investigative Team about the Essential Air Service, one California congressman took to the House floor in an attempt to end the potentially wasteful government program.

"Voters entrusted the House to Republicans with a mandate to stop wasting money!" said Representative Tom McClintock (R-CA). McClintock introduced an amendment to kill the Essential Air Service.

The Essential Air Service began in the late 1970s during airline deregulation out of fear airlines would abandon smaller airports. The program was only supposed to last a few years, but it still exists, costing taxpayers $200 million a year.

The Investigative Team boarded flights from Maryland to Ohio to Nevada that were largely empty. In one case, a flight from Las Vegas to rural Nevada was empty with the exception of Scripps' producer.

Each seat - empty or not - is subsidized by the taxpayers. In the case of the rural Nevada, each flight is subsidized at a rate of $3,700 each.

Erich Zimmermann with Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington, D.C. based advocacy group, said the Scripps report and video captured during the investigation is what, in part, is driving the debate. "There's nothing essential about this program," said Zimmermann.

The Team contacted eight members of Congress who support the Essential Air Service but not one of them would speak to Scripps on camera.

Scripps National Investigative Correspondent Jim Osman approached a Nevada Congressman, Joe Heck, who supports the Essential Air Service. The largely empty flight from rural Nevada we captured on video originates from Heck's Congressional district.

Rep. Heck told Osman he was too busy to speak but would be happy to set up an appointment to "discuss" his vote on the Essential Air Service. Osman contacted Heck's office and the Congressman never made good on what he told Scripps.

The amendment from Rep. McClintock to end the Essential Air Service was defeated in the House by a vote of 238 to 164. Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush attempted to end the Essential Air Service during their administrations to no avail.

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