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Congress approves bill extending equal funding treatment to P.R. airports

LMM airport in Carolina is one of several facilities up for federal funding over the next five years. (Credit: © Mauricio Pascual)

U.S. Congress has approved the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which includes an amendment presented by Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi to guarantee equal treatment for Puerto Rico’s airports with respect to federal funding.

The bill that could shore up $285M over the next five years for the island to bring its airports up to current design standards, to add capacity to meet projected needs and improve safety, is expected to be signed by President Obama in the coming days, he said.

The measure also extends the agency’s Essential Air Service program, which also benefits Puerto Rico.

In addition to the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport in Carolina, the island is home to five other commercial service airports, located in Aguadilla, Ponce, Mayagüez, Isla Grande and Vieques, as well as to five other general aviation airports that serve smaller communities.

In April 2011, when the FAA bill was being considered on the House floor, Pierluisi filed an amendment to ensure that Puerto Rico’s airports will be treated equally with airports in the States in regards to both formula and discretionary funding allocated by the federal government under the Airport Improvement Program (AIP). AIP funds are used to maintain and upgrade airports across the country. Typical projects funded through AIP grants include runway construction and safety improvements.

“There is no reasonable basis to treat Puerto Rico less-than-equally when it comes to obtaining federal funds under the Airport Improvement Program, especially since aviation serves such a critical role on the island,” Pierluisi said. “Puerto Rico is heavily dependent on safe and reliable air service to carry passengers and transport goods to and from the U.S. mainland.”

The LMM is ranked among the top 50 commercial service airports in the United States in terms of the number of passenger boardings, averaging over 4.5 million boardings each year, said Pierluisi during his April 2011 speech on the House floor in support of his amendment.

The Resident Commissioner’s amendment to clarify and confirm that Puerto Rico airports should receive state-like treatment was supported by Chairman John Mica (R-FL) and Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV), the lead Republican and Democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which has jurisdiction over the bill.

EAS to benefit regional service
Meanwhile, under the EAS program, which was created to help maintain airline service at certain smaller airports throughout the nation, carrier Cape Air would be eligible to receive a $1 million subsidy to conduct flights between “El Mani” Airport in Mayagüez and LMM. With this federal support, Cape Air provides 28 weekly nonstop, roundtrip flights, or four a day, between the airports.

Because the House bill would have phased out the EAS program across the United States by October 2013, Pierluisi offered an amendment to continue the EAS program in Puerto Rico beyond that date.

“Thanks to Chairman Mica’s pledge, I feel confident that the EAS program will continue in Puerto Rico.  This program is of great importance to my constituents,” Pierluisi said.

The final bill also leaves open the possibility that EAS support will be provided in the future to air carriers who serve Ponce, in the event that JetBlue discontinues its current service between Ponce and Orlando and Ponce and New York.

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 29 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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