April 21--TUPELO -- While flying out of Tupelo is convenient, having the airport depend on a federal subsidy isn't something Alan Nunnelee particularly supports.
Three weeks ago, he joined his House colleagues in approving the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011, which passed by a 223-196 vote.
Nunnelee supported the bill, which funded the operations of the Federal Aviation Administration for fiscal years 2011-2014 but also called for the end of the $200 million Essential Air Service program.
EAS, established in 1979, provides subsidized air service to some 150 rural communities in the U.S. and has been the target of proposed cuts for years.
Tupelo Regional Airport is among four airports in Mississippi receiving an EAS subsidy. The others are Greenville, Hattiesburg and Meridian.
Of Mississippi's House delegation, only 2nd District Congressman Bennie Thompson voted against the House bill.
Convenience not worth it
Nunnelee cited the government's growing debt as a reason he supports an end to the EAS program.
"We're living in a new era," he said. "When we're borrowing 42 cents out of every dollar, we've got to ask ourselves what can we do differently?"
Nunnelee said he likes the convenience of flying in and out of Tupelo, "but I'm not sure our nation can continue to afford it. I'm seeing more and more people drive to Memphis" to fly from there.
His vote differed from that of his Republican colleagues in the U.S. Senate.
Earlier in the year, the Senate approved a similar FAA reauthorization bill, but Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced an amendment to eliminate the EAS program.
The amendment was tabled, but Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., successfully lobbied to get an amendment passed that limits EAS to locations 90 or more miles away from a medium or large airport.
Coburn's amendment allowed the state's EAS participants to stay in the program.
Mississippi's two Republican Senators, Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, voted to table McCain's amendment. Both said the airports were important to job creation and economic development.
Tupelo is in the program for the first time, having been put under the EAS wing in May after Delta Airlines decided in late 2009 to end commercial air service in Tupelo. Eventually, a subsidy for Delta reinstated flights in the city
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