(a) Alternate Essential Air Service Pilot Program.—
The Secretary of Transportation shall establish an alternate essential air service pilot program in accordance with the requirements of this section.
(2) Assistance to eligible places.—
In carrying out the program, the Secretary, instead of paying compensation to an air carrier to provide essential air service to an eligible place, may provide assistance directly to a unit of local government having jurisdiction over the eligible place or a State within the boundaries of which the eligible place is located.
(3) Use of assistance.—A unit of local government or State receiving assistance for an eligible place under the program may use the assistance for any of the following purposes:
To provide assistance to air carriers that will use smaller equipment to provide the service and to consider increasing the frequency of service using such smaller equipment if the Secretary determines that passenger safety would not be compromised by the use of such smaller equipment and if the State or unit of local government waives the minimum service requirements under section 41732(b).
To provide assistance to an air carrier to provide on-demand air taxi service to and from the eligible place.
To provide assistance to a person to provide scheduled or on-demand surface transportation to and from the eligible place and an airport in another place.
In combination with other units of local government in the same region, to provide transportation services to and from all the eligible places in that region at an airport or other transportation center that can serve all the eligible places in that region.
To purchase aircraft to provide transportation to and from the eligible place or to purchase a fractional share in an aircraft to provide such transportation after the effective date of a rule the Secretary issues relating to fractional ownership.
(b) Community Flexibility Pilot Program.—
(1) In general.—
The Secretary shall establish a pilot program for not more than 10 eligible places or consortia of units of local government.
Under the program, the sponsor of an airport serving an eligible place may elect to forego any essential air service for which compensation is being provided under this subchapter for a 10-year period in exchange for a grant from the Secretary equal in value to twice the compensation paid to provide such service in the most recent 12-month period.
(3) Grant.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary shall make a grant to each airport sponsor participating in the program for use on any project that—
is eligible for assistance under chapter 471 and complies with the requirements of that chapter;
is located on the airport property; or
will improve airport facilities in a way that would make such facilities more usable for general aviation.
(c) Fractionally Owned Aircraft.—
(1) In general.—
An entity seeking to participate in a program under this section shall submit to the Secretary an application in such form and containing such information as the Secretary may require.
(e) Participation Requirements.—
An eligible place for which compensation or assistance is provided under this section in a fiscal year shall not be eligible in that fiscal year for the essential air service that it would otherwise be entitled to under this subchapter.
(f) Subsequent Participation.—
A unit of local government participating in the program under this subsection (a) in a fiscal year shall not be prohibited from participating in the basic essential air service program under this subchapter in a subsequent fiscal year if such unit is otherwise eligible to participate in such program.
Amounts appropriated or otherwise made available to carry out the essential air service program under this subchapter shall be available to carry out this section.
(Added Pub. L. 108–176, title IV, § 405, Dec. 12, 2003, 117 Stat. 2544.)