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      Benishek defends air service vote

      Since 1978, the Essential Air Service program has guaranteed commercial air service to smaller communities throughout the country, like the U.P. But as Congress looks to reign in federal spending, the program could be in jeopardy.

      The House of Representatives passed an aviation bill in April that would phase out the $200 million Essential Air Service program.

      First District Representative Dan Benishek voted in favor of the bill despite having a number of airports in his district that could be affected. But Benishek said this is a plus for the program and U.P. airports.

      "This FAA bill funded the EAS for two-and-a-half years. So that would be stable funding for two-and-a-half years rather than a few months at a time, said Benishek. I think it's a good program and I'm all for it. As far as I was concerned, it was a vote for the program."

      Five U.P. airports receive EAS funding: Escanaba, Houghton, Iron Mountain, Ironwood, and Sault Ste. Marie.

      The House of Representatives bill calls for funding to continue until October 2013 when the program will be phased out.

      The Democratic-controlled Senate voted to keep EAS but tightens eligibility requirements.

      Iron Mountain Airport Manager Tim Howen said a lot of jobs rely on the funding Essential Air Service provides.

      "In the scheme of things, it's not a lot of money compared to other programs out there, and the amount the economy would suffer in each community is greater than what the EAS is putting in," said Howen.

      Benishek said he believes the EAS program will survive.

      "Up here we depend on this, and there are a lot of people in the Congress that believe in this, too, Benishek said. Anybody that lives in rural America depends on funding like this."

      A combined bill between the House and Senate is being worked on now. Benishek expects that bill will contain EAS and pass both houses.