Want to fly into or out of the South Texas city of Victoria on a commercial flight? Under President Donald Trump's preliminary 2018 budget proposal, you'd be out of luck.
As part of a proposed $2.4 billion cut to the U.S. Department of Transportation, his administration's budget would slash $175 million for the Essential Air Service (EAS), a program that subsidizes flights to rural airports — including the Victoria Regional Airport in Texas. The airport is one of the smallest in the state and currently only has commercial flights to and from Houston and Austin.
“There’s no question about that — the EAS program ending would end commercial air service in Victoria,” County Judge Ben Zeller said. “It’s not something we’d be able to make up with local dollars ... We wouldn’t even attempt to. What makes the commercial air service possible is that program.”
The Victoria airport has been receiving funding through the Essential Air Service since 2003. Under its current two-year contract — which runs until Oct. 31, 2018 — it gets roughly $2.7 million, enough to subsidize one flight a day to Houston and one flight a day to Austin.
Airports aren't eligible for the federal program "unless they are located more than 210 miles from the nearest large- or medium-hub airport,” according to the transportation department's website. The Victoria airport is the only one in Texas that is eligible for the program.
Even with the help from the federal government, the Victoria airport still struggles to meet minimum requirements for commercial travel, including having at least 10 passengers per flight per day.
Faye Turner, the acting airport manager, said the Victoria airport's low traffic is likely a result of the community's relative proximity to major Texas cities. “Generally people are driving to either Austin, Houston or San Antonio. Victoria is called the ‘crossroads’ because we’re in between those major cities,” she said.
If Trump's proposal goes through and the program ends, the Victoria airport wouldn't shut its doors to noncommercial travel. It still has general aviation traffic, develops real estate and sells fuel to customers including the Navy and Air Force.
“We’re still an airport, regardless of if we have commercial service or not,” Turner said.
The U.S. Department of Transportation did not return the Tribune’s request for comment.
Read related Tribune coverage:
- President Trump's proposed budget would cut about $14 million from Texas programs designed to provide tutoring, mentorship and counseling for low-income students.
- Investigators said that someone intentionally set the fire that destroyed a mosque in Victoria, the South Texas town that has since rallied around its Muslim community.