Fly me to the trough

The Spirit of Pigcinnati

“The Spirit of Pigcinnati,” Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, Kentucky. Creative Commons image by flickr user richmanwisco.

USA Today reports that the government is wasting $110 million each year flying empty planes, another great example of Congressional pork. The “Essential” Air Service program provides substantial subsidies to regional airlines to fly routes that aren’t economically self sustaining. The subsidies sometimes provide $1,300 per passenger to save them a two hour drive.

Even the people paying the bills don’t like it:

The subsidy program has drawn steady criticism — namely from DOT administrators, who say it wastes money by providing what amounts to luxury travel to people within driving distance of a larger airport. But the subsidies have expanded in recent years, thanks to strong backing from Congress, airlines and airports.

“Clearly, what we’re doing now is not working because the list of cities getting the (subsidized) service is growing,” says Andrew Steinberg, the DOT’s assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs. “The goal here should be to get sustainable solutions where the marketplace provides service. Unless we change our approach, the cost will go up.”

I nearly rolled over in laughter at this line: “‘It helps the city’s image. It helps our possibilities of continuing to recruit Fortune 500 companies,’ Jackson [Tennessee] Mayor Jerry Gist says.” Um, yeah, that’s what is holding them back.

The story points out the incredible ROI on Congressional bribery lobbying: Mesa Airlines created a lobbying group for $837,000. It’s share of EAS subsidies increased from $6.3 million a year to $15.4 million. Mesa’s CEO calls it a “good investment.” I’ll say. I’d love those kind of returns.

Two other side effects of this wasteful spending are ignored: the effect on global warming and the effect on our air traffic control system.

Those empty planes have to land somewhere. That somewhere is usually a congested hub airport. It takes similar amounts of ATC resources to land a jumbo jet with 300 people as it does a regional jet with 2 people. Congress’ flying pigs unfairly hog our limited air travel resources.

via Robert Franklin


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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