Corporate Welfare

Return of the Air Pirates


Small airports (many providing service mostly or exclusively to private planes) make out like bandits from federal fees attached to everyone's plane ticket prices. This Washington Times report quotes Reason Foundation director of trasportation studies (and former editor of reason) Robert Poole:

"They're making out like bandits," said Bob Poole….author of several studies on air transportation costs. "It's not only that airline passengers are paying more than their fair share, but they're being overtaxed to give private jets a free ride.

The full article has a detailed list of various small airports around the country and the full amount of subsidies they are receiving from the rest of us.

A collection of Poole's airport-related work for the Reason Foundation. 

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  1. I’m sure that every dollar of spending on these airports results in at least two dollars of economic impact. Add to that the fact that all these airports would certainly close if the airports weren’t able to rebuild a taxiway, runway, or empty terminal here or there.

    Big commercial airports raise much more of their money by charging PFC’s on every ticket. Small airports don’t get that opportunity because they don’t have any commercial passengers. Is that fair?

    And don’t tell me that airports should be able to raise these funds on their own! There are many important reasons why airports are public goods and are not able to raise these funds. These reasons are so important, numerous, and obvious that I will not bother to list them, nor will I respond to any comments asking about them.

    Finally, these taxes are also used to fund air traffic control. What else can be done with the extra money but spend it building airports? If we cut that tax, air traffic control will be harmed thus reducing safety and causing huge delays. Do we want an air traffic control that’s stuck using 2007 technology for the next 30 years?

  2. Why would we be stuck with 2007 ATC technology? We sure don’t have it now…

    It’s sad to watch the Reason crew get suckered by FAA’s “user fee” scam.

    Most of the cost of today’s ATC system arises from needs created by the scheduled airlines. They’ve found a way to shuffle off some of that cost to their general aviation competition, who are providing better service to the business travelers able to take advantage of it, even more so in today’s “security” environment and overdense hub-based routing and scheduling.

  3. This is a little nuts, rather like trucking companies bitching about how their fuel taxes and bridge tolls are subsidizing a bunch of new bike lanes. The whole reason for the bike lanes is to get bikes out of the way of regular traffic. These smaller “executive” airports primarily exist as places light planes can land so that they’re not screwing up the traffic patterns at places where the major carriers fly. (Look up Rich Snyder of in-n-out burger fame to see why this is desirable)

  4. Air taxis would be a good way to utilize small airports and take a lot of the burden off of the major airports.

    This type of funding bothers me less than many other such things.

  5. As far as government shell games go, this one is a molehill. Some good points were already raised in above comments, and don’t need to be repeated.

    It is in the interest of passengers and airlines in the major airports to keep general aviation out of them as much as possible. Additionally, keeping regional airports feasible alleviates additional congestion, gas and air pollution as some flyers only need to drive 25 miles to a regional airport instead of (say) 150+ miles to a major one.

  6. Funny enough, I just happen to have completed a class on airport management, and funding was a big part of it. The bulk of airport funding comes from the Airport Improvement Program, which is funded by aviation-specific taxes. Here are the tax rates:

    10% on airline tickets
    6.25% on freight
    $6/passenger international departure fee
    $.15/gallon on aviation gasoline (100LL, used by most GA aircraft)
    $.175/gallon on jet fuel, used by jets, turboprops, and the odd Diesel recip

    In short, most of the National Airspace System is funded by the users already, not from the general fund.

    As others have pointed out, another source of revenue is Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs). PFCs are assessed at the airport of departure, for no more than two flight segments (so, if you leave OKC for JAX, with a connection at DFW, you’ll pay a PFC at OKC and DFW; on your return, you’ll pay at JAX and DFW.) PFCs can be $1, $2, $3, or (more recently) $4 or $4.50 per segment. As was also (correctly) mentioned, those fees cannot occur at GA airports, because they don’t have commercial service (commercial service airports are defined as having scheduled passenger service, and emplaning at least 2500 passengers annually).

    As for services such as Flight Service (weather briefing, filing flight plans, etc.) and Air Traffic Control, my understanding is that they are fully funded by fuel taxes. Yes, the airlines pay more in fuel taxes than we do, but a 737 also consumes a hell of a lot more resources than my Bonanza. The suggestion of user fees ignores the fact that we’re already paying for the service; it also ignores the reality that, in countries where service charges have been assessed for filing flight plans and getting weather briefings, pilots have been opting to forego such services. This unintended consequence is a real hazard, both to pilots and to people on the ground, and while it is incumbent upon the pilot to fly in the safest manner possible, it’s also foolhardy to create a disincentive to do so, especially when the service is already paid for.

    OK, enough ranting. I’ll definitely watch the thread, and if anybody is interested, I’ll answer any questions or comments.

    –Dave Buckles, CFII

  7. So MSP would fall apart if those 25 small planes and 3 private jets started flying in and out of it? Oh wait, they’d probably fly in and out of Rochester. Would Rochester descend into chaos? I doubt it. But how can we expect everyone to pay their fair share when the airports aren’t privately owned? If they were privately owned they’d have to spend enough to get a private party to be willing to risk that $16million. As things stand, Hormel just gives Gutnik $13,500 or $3,252 to have Norm Coleman join your board on a retreat.

  8. To paraphrase Patton the Elder, I am perhaps committing the greatest heresy by discussing aviation matters from the standpoint of an aviator, but what the heck.

    There are hundreds of thousands of general aviation aircraft in the US — far more than the number of airliners. The spacing between planes is not much affected by whether they carry 4 or 200. When I roll out to the end of the runway, there’s ONE person aboard (I’m a single-seater pilot), and I’ve taken up the “slot” that the 757 behind me wanted. If you are in that plane, heading for your Hawaiian vacation, you would probably be happy to pay a couple of bucks to get me to fly out of another airport, and not be in your way. Sure, the one minute that I’m taking isn’t going to be a real problem, but I’m not the only pilot out here. How about if it’s 15 of us ahead of your plane on the taxiway, a mixed bag of Cessnas, Bellancas, homebuilts, restored warbirds, a chartered Gulfstream and an ultralight or two, all waiting our turns to take off? And your turn comes after ours, simply because we were there first. 15 planes. 15 minutes of “delay” before you get to the runway. 15 minutes’ more fuel burned by those, big, thirsty high-bypass engines (I can fly all day on what your 757 drinks in one minute) . . .fuel that YOU are paying for, fuel that will add another $10 to your ticket next time.

    . . .or you can kick a couple of bucks toward moving me, my friends and the charter operators to some other runway, some other airport.

    We’re not going unless it’s a better option. I want a good runway, and I will get one — either the one ahead of your 757, or one that costs THREE PERCENT as much as that superslab your jumbo needs.

    I’m not going unless it’s safe. I can live without a control tower, but a lot of other planes out there go a lot faster than mine, and they need air traffic control. A Lear makes one heck of a suppository, and I don’t want him behind me in the pattern unless there is a set of eyes making sure we’re safely separated.

    So, you have your choice — will those extra few bucks that you are spending going to go for idle-time fuel (while you sit there, watching ME fly away), or will those dollars go toward getting me out of your way so that you can get to Oahu?

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