For decades, Diomede has scrambled to fund reliable air carrier service. The small island community got one step closer to a long-term solution for passenger travel and mail delivery when the US Senate voted to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration with a new amendment that would guarantee federal funding for the island of Diomede.
Diomede is smack dab in the middle of the Bering Strait, closer to Russia than it is to the continental US. The remote community relies on air carrier services for everything from milk to medication. That’s why an amendment to include Diomede in the FAA’s Reauthorization Bill is a big boost for the community.
“This is a huge, fundamentally important life, health and safety issue for them,” explained John Bioff. Bioff is an attorney for Kawerak, the Native non-profit corporation for the Bering Strait Region. Up until now, Bioff said he’s struggled to secure steady funding for air carrier services to the island.
“To have to go back to the state every year, not knowing whether or not this year we’re going to be able to keep the Diomede funding in the state budget, is horrible,” Bioff explained.
In 1978 the FAA established the Essential Air Service, or EAS, program. It subsidizes air carrier service to small communities throughout the country, including sixty in Alaska. Diomede isn’t one of them. It’s had to rely on a mix of state and federal funding, which Kawerak reapplies for each year.
In 2015, Diomede received about $190,000 in federal funding and relied on state grants to double that.
Senator Dan Sullivan learned about Diomede’s dire situation a few months back. He’s on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
“I recognize how difficult any kind of economic issues are without essential air service, particularly in some of most remote locations, so we got to work,” Sen. Sullivan said.
The FAA Reauthorization Bill sailed through the U.S. Senate 95-3. The House is working on its own FAA bill, which does not include a special provision for Diomede, but is bogged down over a controversial section that would privatize air traffic control.