RAPID CITY, S.D. – Bronze statues of former Presidents Bill Clinton and Chester Arthur now grace downtown street corners in Rapid City.
The “City of Presidents” project began in 2000, with statues of former leaders being added periodically. Abraham Lincoln was memorialized last year, and a statue of former President George W. Bush is to be added later this year. That will bring the project up to date, with President Barack Obama to be added after he leaves office.
Clinton traveled to Rapid City three years ago as part of his wife’s presidential campaign.
WASHINGTON – George W. Bush is surrounded by 9/11 images, Jimmy Carter stands beside a gasoline pump, and George Washington rows across the Delaware River in a new gallery showing life-size figures of all the U.S. presidents.
A revamped Madame Tussauds wax museum opened its $2 million presidents gallery Thursday after spending a year carefully researching the eyes, hair and other features to add 28 new commanders in chief to its collection.
Each has a historical setting to represent his piece of history. Franklin D. Roosevelt is seated with a radio and fireplace for a “fireside chat.” Ronald Reagan stands beside the Berlin Wall, and President Barack Obama is near a replica of the Oval Office.
“We tried to immerse the area, to theme it during that time period so that it feels more authentic,” said General Manager Dan Rogoski. “We want people to walk in here and feel the authenticity. They feel like they’re part of it.”
Besides the National Portrait Gallery, the wax museum is the first place to show lifelike figures of all the presidents together in the nation’s capital. With brief doses of history to accompany the figures, there are more than a few stereotypes in how the presidents are presented.
Tussauds decided to recast itself as a presidents gallery over its usual mix of pop stars after the attraction didn’t draw as many paying visitors as planned since its 2007 opening in a city dominated by the free Smithsonian museums. Tourists said in surveys that they wanted to see history and politics during a visit to D.C. The museum also hopes to draw more school groups with its new focus.
There have been 44 presidents, but there are 43 figures. Grover Cleveland, who served two nonconsecutive terms, is counted twice as No. 22 and No. 24.
To include all the presidents, Tussauds created 28 new wax figures over the past year. Typically its London artists would rely on photographs or video of a subject, but many of the founding father figures had to be based on paintings or historical accounts.
Rogoski said the figures are as accurate as the available information about each president. Researchers tracked details on eye color, skin tone and attire.
There’s a stately John Adams seated in a replicated “Independence Hall,” as well as the shortest president, James Madison who stood 5 feet 4 inches tall.
A touch screen along the wall asks: “Which president ran up a personal wine bill of $10,000?” Answer: Thomas Jefferson. Apparently he made a habit of lavish entertaining.
For the heaviest president, William H. Taft, there’s a scale for visitors to compare their weight to his more than 300 pounds.
A few other public figures are mixed in with the presidents, including Robert E. Lee surrendering to Ulysses Grant during the Civil War, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
Andrea de Gatica, a teacher from Virginia, got an early look at the gallery with her niece who was visiting from Chile. She said she would consider bringing her students who study English as a second language.
“They look so real, and they are so vivid,” de Gatica said of the wax presidents. “You come to learn about politics, the presidents, but you actually have fun.”
Text along the walls includes some historical context. Beside Carter’s figure and the gas pump, for example, a label explains that oil prices spiked during the Iranian Revolution in 1979 after an earlier oil embargo by Arab nations during President Richard Nixon’s years.
If you go:
Tickets are $20 for adults, $16 for children. Discounts are available online at http://www.madametussauds.com/washington/ Madame Tussauds is located near the historic Ford’s Theatre at 10th and F streets in Washington.
HA LONG BAY, Vietnam – Italian traveler Stefano Corda felt an ominous tilt as dinner was served, but his tour boat crew assured him everything was fine. A few hours later, Corda and his friend jumped for their lives into Vietnam’s famed Ha Long Bay as water raced inside the wooden vessel, sucking it down and killing 12 people from nine countries.
Vacationers from the U.S., Britain, Australia, Japan, Russia, France, Sweden and Switzerland died along with their Vietnamese tour guide Thursday in Vietnam’s deadliest tour boat accident since the country opened to foreign visitors 25 years ago. All were sleeping on the overnight ship, which was anchored in about 30 feet (10 meters) of water near a small island.
Nine foreigners and six Vietnamese survived only by flinging themselves overboard and swimming to other tour boats anchored nearby.
“We woke up at 5, and the boat took one minute to sink,” Corda, 35, of Palermo, Italy, told Associated Press Television News. “We went to the exit and the boat was almost vertical. I grabbed my friend, we went out, and it was so fast.”
Ha Long Bay is one of the country’s top tourist attractions, drawing more than 5 million visitors a year to the province where 1,600 stunning jagged rock formations rise out of the bay, forming tiny islands. Many visitors stay overnight on wooden boats equipped with sleeping cabins and eating quarters.
Police are investigating what caused the accident, and a Vietnamese official called for checks on safety of the more than 100 tour boats that ply the bay.
Corda’s friend, Stefano Sacconi, 33, of Rome, was in the bathroom just before the disaster struck. He thought he felt the boat buckling on its right side and soon realized they needed to get out. And fast.
“We started to hear tables and glasses falling from the top of the restaurant,” he said. “After that, my friend went out. He called me, ‘Come up! Come up! Something’s wrong here! The boat is going down!’”
They jumped from the junk and swam to another nearby ship.
Other survivors reported seeing a wooden plank ripping away from the ship around 5 a.m., followed by gushing water inundating the boat and quickly pulling it under near Titov island, about an hour from mainland’s shore, said Vu Van Thin, chief administrator of Quang Ninh province. The boat was still anchored from the night when it sank.
Several feet of the masts were still visible, and Thin said crews were working to bring in a crane to pull the boat out. Divers worked to free the bodies still inside Thursday morning.
There were 27 people, including six crew members, aboard the boat and all have been accounted for, Thin said. The vessel, which is owned by Truong Hai Co., was anchored alongside dozens of other cruise boats and weather conditions were calm at the time of the sinking.
The dead have been sent to Bai Chay Hospital for identification, where survivors received treatment for minor injuries, said Ngo Van Hung, director of Ha Long Bay’s management board.
The official Vietnam News Agency published the victims’ names and ages, most of them aged 20 to 25, seven were women. They include a Briton, two Americans, one Japanese, one French, two Swedes, two Russians, one Swiss and one person of Vietnamese origin living in Australia, according to the government.
“This is a very rare and very unfortunate accident,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga. She said tour companies should improve safety measures in Ha Long Bay.
Police have launched a criminal investigation into the cause of the accident, which remained unclear Thursday.
Bai Chay Hospital deputy director, Giang Quoc Duy, said survivors “were in a panic.”
“They were given first aid treatment and have already returned to their hotels,” he said.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry confirmed the survivors as two Danes, one German, two Italians, one American, one Australian, one French and one Swiss.
Ha Long Bay, a U.N. World Heritage site dotted with limestone formations, is located near the Chinese border in the Gulf of Tonkin about three hours east of the capital, Hanoi.
More than 100 cruise boats are licensed to offer overnight service there, and last year the province received 5.4 million visitors, nearly half of them foreigners, according to government websites.
The bay has seen boats go down in the past. In 2009, a tour boat sank during a storm, killing five, including three foreign vacationers. In 2006, a powerful wind storm capsized several boats, killing 13 people, though no tourists were among the dead. In 2002, strong winds capsized two tourist boats, killing several foreigners.
Associated Press writers Tran Van Minh and Margie Mason contributed to this report from Hanoi, Vietnam.
For the AJC
American Airlines is at it again by offering a steal-of-a-deal on springtime travel to Paris. Today’s deal shaves just under $400 off of the regularly published round-trip rates.
The base rate is a big tease at $85 round-trip (that’s right, $85). But factor in all taxes, fees and surcharges for a total ticket amount of $580.40. If you think that’s still to high, airfares to Europe from Atlanta never fell under the $600 mark at any time throughout 2010. If you need more convincing on this bargain, Delta’s lowest March and April rate to Paris is $988.40.
The details: Go today if you desire — an advance notice of travel is not required. This rate is valid on Sunday-Thursday eastbound flight; Monday-Thursday returns (based on “O” sale seat availability). Add $25 more each way for travel on other days of the week.
American Airlines posts a ticket-by date of Feb. 23 on this offer, but don’t fall for it. Buy tickets immediately.
American serves Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport via its Chicago or Dallas-Fort Worth hubs.
Sale airfares are always subject to change. Every seat on every flight is not offered at the lowest rate. Since only a limited supply of seats is available, act quickly to make your purchase. I recommend starting the search for available seats at Kayak.com vs. calling an airline directly. You can also search for the sale at travel Web sites such as Expedia or Travelocity, etc. Airlines can discontinue or pull a sale price without notice when the offer is deemed “sold out,” or when that rate does not have a “ticket-by” date.
Compliment your bargain airfare with a fab deal from Travelzoo. Stays at the Hotel Astrid in Paris, located a few steps from the Champs-Elysees (with an outstanding view of the Arc de Triomphe) are sale priced from 115 euro per night, or about $157.
This hotel has 92 percent positive ratings on TripAdvisor.com, and the special rate is 40 percent off regular rates.
Included is a cold buffet breakfast, WiFi and a Seine River cruise ticket for one per person, per stay.
This rate is valid on weekend stays through May 15. Weekday rates are 140 euro, or about $191.
Book your stay from this Travelzoo link: http://www.travelzoo.com/hotels/international/973583/
Clara Bosonetto is a retired travel consultant.
See more topics »
AP Airlines Writer
4:26 p.m. CST, February 16, 2011
DALLAS (AP) — It will take some digging and maybe a bit of luck to score a cheap airfare for this summer.
So far airlines are withholding their deepest discounts from prime summer travel periods, although they have been offering sales for domestic and international flights this spring — even some astounding bargains.
Take Tuesday, for example.
Without much fanfare, Delta Air Lines offered flights this spring to some European cities for as little as $138 round trip. Taxes included. The offer was gone within a few hours, leading some experts to think it was a pricing error. Delta declined to comment.
“These are massive, massive sales, and this is the third time we’ve seen this since late last year,” said George Hobica, founder of travel-advice website airfarewatchdog.com. He said Delta and Lufthansa have each offered cut-rate fares in recent months.
The sudden and temporary nature of the deepest sales makes it harder for travelers to find them. In one instance Hobica says Lufthansa mistakenly priced flights without fuel surcharges, and the lower prices lasted only until the German carrier fixed the error, which wasn’t long.
Other sales are easier to spot. They often run from Tuesdays through Thursdays. This week, Southwest Airlines put many U.S. destinations on sale for as low as $138 round trip, with blackout days around Easter and on Fridays and Sundays. Other airlines matched the prices.
To find the most deals, experts like Hobica and Tom Parsons of BestFares.com advise travelers to sign up for airline loyalty programs and alerts from travel websites, and to follow the same sources on Twitter.
Airlines constantly advertise sales, but so far the deals have been limited to travel before late May. Parsons says travelers should look for one airline to break free from the pack and extend a sale into summer.
“When they do, you better be ready with your credit card, because that first sale usually delivers more bang for the buck,” he says.
Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com, says base fares are poised to rise as much as $250 per round trip because airlines aren’t yet discounting summer seats. He says prices might come down as airlines unload unsold inventory, but they could also go higher.
Seaney says we’re approaching the time — about three months before summer vacations begin — when airlines traditionally start offering bargains to gauge travel demand.
Jet fuel prices could be the wild card. Fuel and labor are an airline’s two biggest costs, and fuel prices have risen nearly 50 percent in the past year, as oil prices have climbed. The Air Transport Association, an industry group, estimates that every dollar increase in the price of oil costs U.S. airlines an extra $400 million per year.
Air fares rose last summer as demand for travel increased and airlines tightly controlled the number of flights and seats. Last June, average fares were 18 percent higher than the summer before, although increases were more modest after that. Airlines are continuing to add surcharges of $20 to $60 per round trip on peak travel days, including spring break, holidays and summer.
Many flights last summer took off with 90 percent or more of the seats filled, and the Federal Aviation Administration forecasts that even more people will travel in 2011 than last year.
The FAA predicts that passengers on U.S. airlines will pay 2 percent more for domestic flights and 5 percent more for international trips this year.
Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Currently there are no comments. Be the first to comment!
Are you faking it when you go on vacation? Many people are, according to TripAdvisor’s 2011 Travel Trends Forecast. The website, which features user reviews of hotels and other tourist sites, surveyed more than 3,000 of its users last year and reported that 69% said they connected with work while on vacation, and 62% said they checked their work e-mails.
Blurring the lines between work and vacation isn’t new, but job creep might lend credence to a decidedly underwhelming travel trend: the “fake-ation.” And the marketing already has begun.
Witness the Perfect Fake-ation package from the Shores Resort Spa in Daytona Beach Shores, Fla. It starts at $119 per night, according to the hotel, and offers Wi-Fi throughout the site , including poolside; access to a 24-hour business center; endless cups of coffee; a copy of the Wall Street Journal; and a private office available for conference calls. Um, whatever happened to “come unwind in our luxurious spa”?
“Good or bad, it’s obvious that a lot of travelers want or need to keep one foot in both worlds,” David Rijos, manager of the Florida hotel, said in a statement about the offer. “By providing conveniences to our guests who still need to conduct business while enjoying the exceptional amenities of our resort, we are hopefully able to cut down on the work portion of their fake-ation.”
I’m not sure I want my resort-spa worrying about my workload. But the Shores Resort package does hit my weak spot: I took three “fake-ations” last year, and ubiquitous Wi-Fi was vital to juggling my workload and time off.
At least I took a vacation, real or not. More than half of Americans last year didn’t use up their vacation time, according to a Reuters story. So maybe we just need some ground rules, such as no laptops in the spa. For now.
Baggage, food, pillows, and more—it seems no airfare transaction is fee-free nowadays. While fees may be here to stay, some are certainly more egregious than others.
2008 AP file photo American Airlines announced in 2008 that it would start charging for all checked bags. Nearly every major carrier since then has not only adopted baggage fees, but raised the initial cost.
2008 AP file photo
American Airlines announced in 2008 that it would start charging for all checked bags. Nearly every major carrier since then has not only adopted baggage fees, but raised the initial cost.
As we start planning our travels for 2011, let’s revisit the “deadliest” fees in the airline industry, but this time with a twist. We’ve paralleled each of the seven deadly sins with its most appropriate airline fee counterpart—and, of course, we have a few recommendations on how you can avoid paying them, too.
How best to describe “lust” in terms of an airline fee? At SmarterTravel, we think charging a fee just to choose your seat fits the bill. Why? Purchasing your seat is the most essential transaction of air travel, yet too many carriers (specifically, Air Canada, AirTran, Allegiant, Continental, Spirit, and US Airways) lust after just a little bit more of your money for allowing you the “privilege” of selecting your own seat. It’s like purchasing a shirt, but then having to pay more to select its color.
The costs aren’t insignificant, either. In some cases you can get charged up to $20 per flight. Additionally, the fact that seat-selection fees have not been adopted industry-wide further exhibits the desperation of the aforementioned airlines, lusting after whatever extra revenue they can squeeze from the flying public.
To avoid paying a seat-selection fee, limit your business to those airlines that don’t penalize you for choosing your seat in advance. You can find a full round-up of fees in USA TODAY’s airline fees chart.
Fuel surcharges for frequent flier award seats, particularly from British Airways, gets the win for gluttony. Senior Editor Christine Sarkis notes that British Airways’ fuel surcharges are “over the top,” especially in regard to redeeming frequent flier miles. Sarkis paid more than $400 in fees and taxes for an award ticket, a hefty price for a “free” seat; and frequent flier expert Tim Winship recently offered advice to a reader expecting to pay more than $700 in British Airways award redemption fees. With your loyal business and participation in British Airways’ frequent flier program, you’ve done your part. Why the extra fees? With the true definition of gluttony, it seems British Airways just wants more, more, more.
Before you book an award ticket (or better yet, before you choose which loyalty program to join), familiarize yourself with SmarterTravel’s Frequent flier fees guide. Currently focusing on domestic travel, this guide offers a quick and handy resource to all the fees associated with award travel, from booking a reward seat to reactivating your miles. This way, you’ll know exactly which airlines charge fees for the services and transactions you’d most expect to use. Don’t see your airline listed there? Visit your preferred carrier’s website and search for its frequent flier program policies, as well as FAQs. After all, just because an airline is gluttonous doesn’t mean you have to feed its habit.
Carl Unger, our Today in Travel blogger, loathed American’s Your Choice/Express Seats fee so much that we ultimately deemed it the Worst Fee of the Year for 2010. Starting at $19, the fee enables you to board coach a few minutes before non-fee-paying customers, with no other perks. A true act of greed on American’s part, this fee offers no real value; some may call it a pure money grab.
To avoid this fee, take your chances and simply forgo it. By doing so, you’ll have to board with the rest of the crowd, but most of us do that anyway and live to tell the tale. Sure, your carry-on bag may not make the bin that’s directly overhead, or you may have to stow something extra under your seat. But to still have $20 in your pocket, the “inconvenience” of walking a few paces to an adjacent overhead bin or leaning down to grab your bag may not seem so steep.
Two airlines, Ryanair and Spirit, share “sloth” status. With most ticket purchases, travelers are guaranteed a boarding pass. Not so on Ryanair: You’ll pay 5 to check in online or 40 to get your boarding pass at the airport. Spirit, on the other hand, tacks on a $5 fee for booking a ticket both over the phone or online. Basically, if you book a ticket from your home or office, and not in person at the airport, you’ll pay for it. And come on—when was the last time you bought your ticket at the airport? Spirit is banking on the fact that you, like most other travelers, tend to avoid the airport except on your actual travel days. In true slovenly fashion, both Ryanair’s and Spirit’s laziness put the onus on you, the travelers, for your own transactions—and then, with the fees, require you to pay extra to do so, too.
With most airlines, choose online transactions to save yourself booking and related fees. Ryanair, however, should be avoided entirely (as you can’t even get a boarding pass without a fee). If you like Spirit, outsmart their phone- and online-booking fees by purchasing your tickets in person at the airport.
It’s pretty mean-spirited to charge a fee for any type of bag you take along. But that’s exactly what Spirit has done by charging fees for virtually every type of baggage, from carry-ons stowed in the overhead bins to checked suitcases. Columnist Ed Perkins called Spirit’s carry-on bag fees a new low for the airline, remarkable for the fact that the ultra-low-cost carrier isn’t exactly known for customer-friendly policies to start. Adopted in early 2010, this fee seems to be here to stay, as pushback from both travelers and the press did little to curb Spirit’s wrathful ways.
If you do still plan on flying Spirit, make sure your baggage can fit under the seat in front of you—a purse, knapsack, or small duffel may fit the bill. It may also cost less to ship your bags ahead of you. A handful of new services cater to budget travelers, and you may find their prices undercut Spirit’s fees. Of course, you can avoid baggage fees entirely by flying with Southwest (first two checked bags free) or JetBlue (first checked bag free).
Finding the best fee for the “envy” category was a no-brainer: Back in 2008, when American announced it would start charging for all checked bags, they soon became the envy of most other airlines. In response, nearly every major carrier quickly jumped on the checked-bag-fee bandwagon. Worse yet, once the other airlines decided this was a great idea, the actual price tag for the fee jumped, too: First-checked-bags started out around $15; nowadays, you’re likely to pay around $25 apiece for your first- and second-checked bag. The bottom line? Take two people traveling together, each with a checked bag, on a round-trip flight, and you’re adding an extra $100 to your travel costs.
As we mentioned earlier, to avoid baggage fees, choose Southwest or JetBlue when service is available. Or, with the exception of Spirit, try to limit your baggage to a carry-on. You may also want to put in some legwork on your hotel search: Several brands, such as Kimpton and InterContinental Hotels Group, offer luggage-reimbursement programs when you book a minimum-night stay.
Perhaps you’ve seen Southwest’s latest ad campaign, which uses a courtroom setting to scrutinize other airlines’ ticket change fees. It’s a direct challenge to the competition, as well as an effective tool to position Southwest as a friendly, no nickel-and-diming airline. Yet the other airlines’ response has been, fittingly … no change at all. Indeed, one could say the other airlines are too proud to rescind any fees. So if you’re planning to purchase an air ticket, you know that with most airlines, if you need to change your itinerary, you’re going to get socked with a pricey penalty.
If you want flexibility for an upcoming trip and don’t want to pay to change your ticket, you have a few (limited) options. One is to fly Southwest, the only airline that doesn’t charge any ticket change fees. Another is waiting to book until the last minute, when you’re certain of your plans. (This carries additional risk, though, as a last-minute fare may not always be the most affordable.) Alternatively, you could book the highest-class ticket, where typically itinerary changes don’t incur a fee, although the price of such a ticket may be higher than what you’d pay in fees. Lastly, you could investigate travel insurance options, where your investment is covered in case you need to change plans or cancel. A bit of extra work, in this case, can at least help you work around the costly fee.
SmarterTravel.com features expert travel advice and unbiased coverage of travel deals.
© 2011 Smarter Travel Media LLC. All Rights Reserved
Pick a slope, any slope, for this ski-and-room package from the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort Spa and Casino in Incline Village, Nev. The offer includes two lift tickets good at any of seven Tahoe-area ski resorts – Alpine Meadows, Diamond Peak, Homewood, Heavenly, North Star, Mt. Rose and Squaw Valley.
The deal: The Deluxe Ski Package, which requires a two-night stay, comes with some cool extras. The price includes two lift tickets of your choice each day; free shuttle service to four of the resorts (Alpine Meadows, Diamond Peak, North Star and Squaw Valley); $100 spa credit per stay; 15% off food and beverages at the hotel; a daily to-go breakfast or lunch; and a s’mores kit.
Pacakge prices start at $369 per night on weekdays and $399 weekends, not including tax. Use the code “SSDLX” when making a reservation.
When: The offer is good through April 15, except for some blackout dates.
Tested: I went to Hyatt’s website and found a room with one king or two queen beds for a two-night stay starting March 21. The two nights cost $738 plus tax and a $21 per night resort fee.
To check the savings, I tallied what all this would cost without the package. The hotel’s daily rate for the same room on the same nights, plus the cost of four lift tickets at Squaw and the spa credit, came to $942 plus tax and resort fees. Plus you get the other extras with the package. So you save quite a bit.
Contact: Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino, (775) 832-1234
It’s always fun to save on travel deals, and the state’s Department of Tourism has just launched what it calls a T3 campaign to offer bargains right here at home.
Here’s how it works: Attractions across the state will submit deals such as buy-one-get-one-free offers, 50 percent discounts and some freebies.
The deals will be posted each Tuesday on www.tnvacation.com/t3 and will then be promoted through the Tourism Department’s various social platforms, such as e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and text messages.
You need to pay attention to expiration dates, but this new set-up should be perfect for last-minute traveling.
There isn’t that much posted yet, but the plan is to build it to where it becomes a strong Web destination for bargain-hungry travelers who might enjoy some Tennessee attractions.
You can also order a free Tennessee Vacation Guide at www.TNvacation.com or call 1-800-462-8366 to get one.
• I have had a number of calls from folks looking for a reminder on how to get into a focus group that pays you for your opinions. I wrote last year about Focus Nashville, a Nashville-based market research company that partners with companies such as Arby’s, Papa John’s, McDonalds, Burger King and others to collect consumer opinion.
Compensation ranges from $35 to as much as $150, depending on the topic and the pool of people who fit the focus group criteria. Just go to www.focusnashville.com, click on the participants button, create an account, complete the survey and you’re in the database. You can also call for information (690-7801), but the e-mail gets better results.
• Tax time is just around the corner. If your income was $49,000 or less in 2010 or you are 60 or older, you will likely qualify for free tax help at one of 180 help sites in 56 Tennessee counties located in churches, libraries, community centers and elsewhere.
These sites, which are part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs, are staffed by volunteers who have been trained and tested by the IRS, and they offer free tax preparation and e-filing. In Davidson County, there are 16 help sites. Call the IRS at 1-800-906-9887 to find the site closest to you and to get a list of what to bring.
Also, for filers whose household income was $49,000 or less last year, the IRS office in Nashville (801 Broadway) offers free tax preparation and e-filing 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays. They’ll also be open 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on Feb. 26 and March 26. Help is offered on a first-come, first-served basis, but appointments often can be made if the lines are long. The IRS office in Nashville will also help flood victims who are filing a casualty loss form, and the income limit is waived.
WASHINGTON – Subsidies for air service to small airports, often in remote communities, would be nearly eliminated and spending on aviation programs scaled back under a bill approved Wednesday by a House committee.
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted 34-25, mostly along party lines, for a Republican-authored bill that establishes and renews Federal Aviation Administration programs through Sept. 30, 2014.
The bill would eliminate most of the $200 million essential air service program, which pays airlines to provide scheduled service to 155 communities. The bill would phase out the program in the lower 48 states by 2013. After that, only subsidies for service to airports in Alaska would be continued.
In the Senate, Arizona Republican John McCain has proposed eliminating the program, calling it a test of lawmakers’ commitment to cut government spending.
The program was created to ensure that less-profitable routes to small airports wouldn’t be eliminated when airline service was deregulated in 1978. But critics say the airports often serve too few people to merit the subsidies.
Subsidies per airline passenger range as high as $5,223 in Ely, Nev., to as low as $9.21 in Thief River Falls, Minn., according to Transportation Department data for the lower 48 states as of June.
A 2009 Government Accountability report said demographic shifts were also decreasing the population of some communities served by the program. The report said that on average just over a third of the seats were filled on subsidized flights. For commercial flights nationwide, the average was about 80 percent.
Lawmakers from rural districts say scheduled airline service is critical to the ability of rural communities to attract and retain businesses that generate jobs.
The subsidy program “is a vital lifeline between rural communities and the global network of commerce,” Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., the committee’s top Democrat, said in a statement.
“Small and rural communities have grown up around (the program), which directly supports local jobs,” Rahall said.
The bill would also roll back annual FAA spending to $14.7 billion for each of the next three years — the same level as 2008 — in keeping with GOP promises to shrink government. But the FAA budget had been expected to grow substantially since the agency is in the midst of a major effort to modernize the nation’s air traffic control system, moving from World War II-era technology to a satellite-based system.
The new GPS system is needed so that planes can fly more precise routes, saving time and fuel and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, aviation officials have said. It is also necessary to help accommodate anticipated growth in air travel, they said. FAA’s latest air travel forecast, released this week, predicts air travel will increase from about 700 million passenger trips a year now to over 1 billion trips by 2021.
Democrats predicted the spending decreases will lead to cutbacks and cancellations in the air traffic modernization program. FAA has estimated the program will cost the government as much as $22 billion through 2025. Airlines would have to spend as much as $20 billion more to install equipment in their planes.