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Highlights

Over the last decade significant changes have occurred in the airline industry. Many legacy carriers are facing challenging financial conditions and low cost carriers are attracting passengers away from some small community airports. These changes, and others, have challenged small communities to attract adequate commercial air service. To help small communities improve air service, Congress established the Small Community Air Service Development Program in 2000. This study reports on (1) how the Department of Transportation (DOT) has implemented the program; and (2) what goals and strategies have been used and what results have been obtained by the grants provided under the program.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation To ensure the effectiveness of the Small Community Air Service Development Program, the Secretary of Transportation should conduct an evaluation of the Small Community Air Service Development Program in advance of the program's reauthorization in 2008. Such an evaluation should occur after additional grant projects are complete and include a determination of the extent to which the program is meeting its intended purpose of improving air service to small communities.
Closed - Implemented
In response to this recommendation, the DOT Inspector General conducted a review of the Small Community Air Service Development Program. Specifically, the DOT Inspector General reviewed 40 grants issued between 2002 and 2006 (excluding feasibility studies) that had been closed for 12 months or more as of March 31, 2007 to determine whether the projects could sustain themselves without continued Federal support. As a result of its review, the DOT Inspector General's final report, issued in May 2008, made further recommendations to improve the grant award process.
Department of Transportation To ensure the effectiveness of the Small Community Air Service Development Program, the Secretary of Transportation should clarify what support and services it will provide to communities that are designated as Air Service Development Zones.
Closed - Implemented
In response to our recommendation, DOT included enhanced guidance for communities considering requesting designation as an Air Service Development Zone in its January 2006 order requesting proposals for the fiscal year 2006 program. Specifically, the order clarified the information that the applicant is expected to provide to support his request including a detailed plan that outlines what goals the community expects to achieve and the types of activities on which it would like to work with DOT in achieving those goals. In addition, the order specifies that DOT would work with the grant recipient to help direct the community's efforts to appropriate government agencies that could provide further support and guidance for achieving the community's goals. The order also states that DOT will serve as a liaison in helping the selected community connect directly with others that have the expertise and ability to support the community's development activities.

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