Monday Insight – July 24, 2023

Tossing Money Down Proven Rat Holes
FAA Re-Authorization Has Failed Small Communities

Yup, this goes counter to all the glowing me-too stories about the Herculean heroics accomplished by congress in crafting a new FAA plan for the next five years.

It is true that the expected players inside the Marble Playpen are all ecstatic. They are saving rural airports!

It’s mostly malarkey, but they know the media will swallow this like tossing fish to trained circus seals.

The hard fact is that they’ve just perpetuated a number of programs that are proven to be galaxies away from 21st century reality. Programs that are failures, but which pander to the public.

Let’s take a look.

 Essential Air Service Gets Gold-Plated. Wonderful, there’s an 80% increase in funding for Essential Air Service – from $162 million to over $290 million.

Yessir, that will have “commercial” service come a’runnin’ to small airports across the USA. It has to. The politicians have spoken.

Does anybody in the aviation media really look at this stuff before parroting the official press releases?

Stepping out of the political hype, this will do almost nothing to enhance air access to rural America. The reasons are simple: the politicians are legislating on matters of which they are totally ignorant. They just assume that a small community without “commercial service” (totally undefined) at the local airport is in big economic yogurt.

They assume that consumers in these regions are trapped and can’t get out. They assume that a couple of “commercial flights” will be to these consumers like the helicopters on the top of the Saigon embassy. They just assume that there are no better options. They just assume there are airlines out there ready to jump in with service levels that are competitively better than other existing options, even when a 90-minute drive to a larger airport is in some cases more total travel-time efficient.

They are assuming fantasy. Politically-safe fantasy. Irresponsible fantasy.

Not a shred of analysis of investigation or research has been done regarding the dynamics and causes of the “loss” of air service at small communities, which differ at each. Not a hint of understanding of‘ consumer trends or the foundations of air travel as a communication channel.

None of the major flaws in the EAS system are even acknowledged. Just more money to mislead small communities that we are still in the 1980s. The EAS program and its failure is now locked in again.

Oblivious To The Future:  Maximizing The Opportunities At Rural Airports. The USA airport system is a huge asset. Unfortunately, politicians and the media can’t see beyond the end of the runway.

Take stock of the future value of rural America. Whether it is politically correct or not, the economic and social conditions in many large metro regions are descending into trendy woke chaos. One big metro had a reported six shooting deaths and 20 other incidents just last weekend. In the same state that just made “bail” free. Downtown San Francisco is almost literally being business-evacuated due to dimbulb governance.

Other stories have illuminated the financial benefits of getting out of a number of large cities and moving to smaller ones.

The point is this: rural and mid-size communities have huge opportunities to attract new investment, and that includes new opportunities for small airports, albeit not always including viable connective air service.

The thought of actually using this $290 EAS million to develop economic investment programs at rural airports wasn’t in the mix. A lot of saccharine babbling about the importance of rural air service from politicians reading off of crib sheets provided by brain-dead staffers does not suffice.

SCASD Grants – More Squandering. Then, they want money tossed at the Small Community Air Service Grant program – oblivious of the fact that SCASD has never truly funded permanent service improvements at anyplace even vaguely resembling what we mere mortals would define as a “small community.”

Again, this should be restructured as a program to award grants for economic development, based on hard metrics like job creation and revenue enhancement, instead of what it is today – air service for the sake of air service. While it is great to have, it gets shaky contending that lake of a couple of weekly ULCC impulse flights to Orlando for a sliver of the traveling public is an air service “shortfall.”

Think about it. The dough allocated to the SCASD program is less than the cost of two – count them, two – Abrams tanks being sent to the Ukraine. An economic development grant program of say, $100 million is a drop in the vapor-hole budget being sent to Kyiv. But that level of thinking might cause several politicians to collapse.

Keep ‘Em In The Cockpit For Another 24 Months. Another part is pushing commercial pilot retirement age to 67. Some hope that it will filter down to result in flights coming back to connective air service cadavers like Topeka and Youngstown.

There is no evidence that most pilots will excitedly stay on beyond 65. International flying restrictions, training issues and anything vaguely relating to aviation realities are out of the picture.

Let’s Get Everybody’s Parochial Opinions On Airlines. Then there is the proposed “airline experience” task force, comprised of a dozen or more “stake holders” from every walk of life short of bush people living in the Andaman Islands, to discuss how airlines must be more “resilient” to major flight disruptions.

Like the 2016 TRB Task Force on bringing service back to small airports, this will be yet another gigantic waste of time and money. But it does feel politically warm and fuzzy.

Like the old late-night ads hawking Ginsu knives, there’s more. Much more. But this is enough to paint the picture.

Yes, a lot of necessary areas are addressed in the 800+ page documents. But In regard specifically to the needs of rural airports, this FAA Re-Authorization extravaganza is a clear example of how our politicians can work together in a bi-partisan way to end up in the weeds.

They are perpetuating the status quo, not thinking about the future.

It is embarrassing. But we’re stuck with it