The federal government takes grant applications from small communities to spend in a variety of ways promoting air service.
Tunica, Mississippi — 40 miles from Memphis — got $500,000 to subsidize bringing gamblers to town four times a week via Atlanta on Airtran.
Rockford, Illinois’ airport — which calls itself Chicago Rockford to emphasize just how close and convenient they are to Chicago, which has plenty of air service as a hub for United and
DeltaAmerican (O’Hare) and a busy low cost carrier hub for the likes of Southwest (Midway) — got $500,000 to support non-stop flights to business destinations from Rockford to LA, Minneapolis, Dallas, Atlanta, Washington, and/or New York.
Now, Rockford has some modest service on the likes of Allegiant and Apple Vacations to leisure destinations. But flights out of Rockford on low cost carriers tend to need to support themselves on origin and destination traffic. Rockford itself won’t have low enough fares or enough traffic to support regular service across the country. If they wanted to funnel business traffic, they’d likely have flights to major carrier hubs, but there’s a reason that they don’t — Rockford is pretty close to Chicago, and folks drive there and it gives them non-stop access to the world.
Agreed, pouring tax dollars into subsidizing additional service that the market doesn’t demand into Rockford is silly.
On the other hand, Cranky does like much likes two of the 19 grants that were given out, but I’m not convinced.
The little Manu’a Islands in American Samoa were awarded $169,000 for something that seems incredibly basic. I told the sad tale of the Manu’a Islands last year, and I’m genuinely happy to see them get the award. What is it they want? They just want to buy some ground power equipment… they’re having trouble getting regular air service. Part of that is because there just isn’t much demand yet, but the other problem is that costs are high. Since there is no ground equipment at the airport, airplanes have to keep one prop spinning when they land and that uses precious fuel – up to $125 worth. Give them ground power, and they can keep costs down.
A $169,000 grant that saves $125 per flight? That would take 1352 flights to break even. Yes, I realize it’s more complicated than that, but remember that the equipment has maintenance and upkeep costs and labor cost to operate so that’ll mitigate against additional savings as well.
Airlines don’t choose not to service the Manu’a Islands because of the need to keep one prop spinning at a cost of $125 per flight.
Back in 2006, the Governor of American Samoa wanted to kick Hawaiian Airlines off Pago Pago because their fares were too high and they didn’t offer DigE Players. But no one else wanted to service the island from the U.S., even with subsidies… (independent Samoa on the other hand has service to the US, New Zealand, Australia, and elsewhere). The problem across Samoa isn’t technological, DigE Players notwithstanding.
Cranky also liked:
The other proposal that stood out among the winners is that of Eldorado, Harrison, and Jonesboro in Arkansas. Those communities are jointly the lucky recipients of $150,000. What will they do with this money? Spend it on marketing.
Call me crazy, but when you have to convince people to use an already-subsidized service, that service probably shouldn’t exist in the first place.
As Cranky concedes, it’s been
nearly a year and a half without air service and now it’s heading the opposite direction (east). During that time, the people in the communities learned to drive elsewhere. Now that service is back, they need to tell people about it and get them to start considering flying locally again.
Hardly a compelling case for a subsidy, and if that’s the best of the bunch one really has to wonder about this program.