Only in his first 90 days on the job, Essential Air Service program administrator Joel Szabat was in Scottsbluff Wednesday to speak with and receive input from airport officials.
Szabat spoke to a number of city and airport officials from across central and western Nebraska about where the program is at and what it’s possible future role could be.
Szabat told KNEB News the big question for it’s future will be finding new ways to pay for the service. He said they provide Essential Air Service to 173 airports across the country, 7 of them in Nebraska, including Scottsbluff.
Szabat said he is confident that congress has provided enough funding for the rest of this fiscal year. But he says the costs of the program have doubled over the past 10 years. So the question is how long will they have enough money to pay for all the services they are providing today.
Szabat said his biggest surprise coming into the job was adjusting to the unique nature of the EAS program and it’s funding. With every Federal funding program, they know exactly how much they have to spend in their budget.
But for EAS, every community bids every two years, so they don’t know when a new bid comes in how much the carrier will ask for. He says it’s much more of an art than a science to provide the EAS funding.
Szabat went on to tell KNEB News it would be an understatement to say he received good feedback from the airport officials at these meetings. He says at the end of the day, the reason the Essential Air Service program was created was to provide needed air service to communities like these.
For him, coming out and talking to these communities has given him excellent feedback on what makes a good carrier and good carrier relationship, and what they can do to improve that and keep it moving forward in the future.
In addition to his Scottsbluff visit Wednesday, Szabat had similar meetings in Pierre, South Dakota and Billings, Montana on his three state trip.