July 15--Athens-Ben Epps Airport will be losing the federal funding that supports the commercial passenger air service provided by SeaPort Airlines, according to an announcement this morning from the Athens-Clarke County government. The announcement notes that SeaPort, which provides flights from Athens to Nashville, where passengers can connect with other airline flights, "is expected to end its service to Athens," but goes on to note that "the airline has not made any official notification" of its intentions.
The Essential Air Service program at Athens-Ben Epps Airport will be terminated as of Sept. 30, according to the county government's news release. The EAS program provides a $1.6 million annual subsidy for commercial air service from Athens, with a requirement that the service be used by 10 passengers daily. Airline ridership at Athens-Ben Epps has not met that threshold since 2009, although ridership had improved since SeaPort Airlines took over commercial air service nearly two years ago. There are provision for airport officials to request a waiver from the minimum ridership requirement; according to the news release, the Athens-Ben Epps Airport Authority has not made any decision as to whether it will request a waiver.
The news release indicates that the airport "will keep its status as a commercial airport since large charter aircraft such as collegiate athletic charters operate unscheduled passenger flights into Athens."
Airports that lose an EAS subsidy may reapply if an airline that can operate within EAS guidelines can be found. According to the news release, the airport authority "continues to pursue the possibility of developing a program for the active recruitment of a new subsidized or non-subsidized airline."
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