City Journal Autumn 2014

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Steven Malanga
Airfields of Dreams « Back to Story

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We hear you, loud and clear! We've been fighting an airport on Class 1 agricultural lands on the doorstep of Canada's largest city for 41 years!! www.landoverlandings.com
Just one more reason why governments should not be in the business of picking business enterprises they think ought to succeed and using taxpayer dollars to fund their development.
This is waste, mismanagement and subsidy. Oh, wait, politicians say that about Amtrak, that cover around 85 % of their expenses! And Amtrak serves better a lot of "Essential Air Service" towns as trains can stop in route and serve more than one town... in fact, from 109 continental US EAS airports, 59 are, were or can be served by Amtrak easily and cheaper than by plane...
It all depends on demand. It takes a very long time to plan and develop a new airport. Certainly you should not do so if there is no demand. And it all depends on whether you think America and the midwest will grow or not.

It is pretty clear that our country and the midwest will continue to grow despite the current recession. At some point we will need additional airport capacity. So I think it is wise to acquire the land now before it is developed. The airport will be developed when and only when it is needed.
It's interesting to note that we see very few exposes on disastrous private market investments. Not that they don't happen, they do, but those who lose in them made a rational decision to risk their assets and accepted the possibility of loss when they did so.
Anonymous, I am really interested to hear how an "inaccurate opinion" works. If you meant that the facts were wrong you should start by mentioning on.
Forget about this, let's whine about Solyndra
This is a really long article full of inaccurate facts, or should I say, opinions.
The taxpayer is always on the hook for these "investments". The subsidies to rural airports should be stopped. Building railroads makes more sense. The French started building 187 mph train systems 30 years ago, and haven't had a single fatality, while we in the U.S. have had over 1 million traffic fatalities and countless injuries in the same time period.
a good read
Mid America Mascoutah, IL 62258
To: Beecher, IL is 275 miles not 500. No two points in IL are 500 miles apart. Don't forget my favorite Chicago-land regional boondoggle airport, GYY Gary Indiana.
This, of course, is the case for high-speed rail, which can transport passengers between cities 400-500 miles apart in the same or less time it would take by plane. Thus no need for many of the expensive and wasteful new airports. By the way, there's an additional and often overlooked cost to all these new airports: the permanent loss of real property taxes to the local governments.
In the Aerotropolis inset, a correction and a clarification: it's 18 miles from Downtown Denver to the terminal at Denver International Airport as the bird flies, and 23 miles by vehicle--in either case, not 30 miles. Also, the wording of that same sentence could confuse someone to believe that the airport is in the city of Aurora, which it is not.
Crescent City, Ca. located in the northernmost part of Ca. is the home of the Pelican Bay prison. Population 9,000 give or take a few hundred with 3500 or so citizens locked up, not likely to board our daily flights from our local McNamara Airport.We are about 350 miles north of San Francisco. Most people who fly south drive 80 miles south to a bigger airport in Arcada. Our county leaders have decided they will expand the airport and people will flock to this area to gamble or play golf on our small golf course. We are located in a area that is difficult to reach away from any major highway with mountains and highways that have rock slides and flooding in winter months. They keep pluging away begging for the funds from the FAA. Now after reading this article, I'm afraid they will succeed in which case I'll lose my little home.
The distance between St. Clair County, IL, and Beecher, IL, is about 280 miles, not 500 as stated in the article.
Sure, Tom. There were many working prototype flying cars in the 50s and 60s (among many, many other kinds of working experimental vehicles that never went mainstream). Right now that's all we have in the way of SDVs too: a handful of experimental prototypes. Not any actual SDVs owned by ordinary consumers plying the regular roads.

Please wait until the technology actually gets out of the lab and goes mainstream before predicting the dramatic shrinkage of airlines. PRT was also a proven, working technology. Nevertheless, save for a handful of dinky shuttles, it just couldn't scale up economically to work on a large scale. Maybe SDVs will be able to. But the point is they haven't yet, so any techno-optimistic-utopian predictions over their supposed impending takeover are absurdly premature.
Marc: You are way mistaken, Self driving cars are already a proven technology. Flying cars have never been a proven technology.
Tom, I'll believe it if it ever actually happens. Right now the hype over self-driving cars is just wishful thinking considering that not a single SDV is in regular use on our roads. They promised flying cars in the 50s too...

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What I found curiously absent from the article's discussion on the troubles in the airline industry was any mention of volatile fuel prices. Please, 9/11 did not cause a decade of turmoil in the airline industry. Neither did a recession that only unraveled in 2008 (the troubles began years before). A decade of volatile fuel prices has wreaked havoc on the airline industry, and as a result they've been forced to scale back their portion of the airport maintenance bargain with state/muni agencies (among having to scale back many other things, like pensions).

I do appreciate and share Malanga's incredulity over the "cargo cult" behavior of desperate municipalities: building absurd airport additions to poach airline business from elsewhere in an endless sort of round-robin game. (I also appreciate Malanga's previous exposes on the very same phenomenon wrt convention centers and sports/entertainment stadiums.) And there's no question that the Essential Air Service program needs to be scrapped.

Hmmmm... have any "free market" politicians actually come out in favor of ceasing the program, or do all the pols appreciate the convenient subsidized routes that connect their offices in DC (or their side-businesses in some other big, important metro) to their backwater home districts?
Airports and airlines are doomed. In a few years our driverless cars will make the airplane obsolete for any trip of less than about 600 miles. You'll get in the car at bedtime, sleep through the night as you travel in your well appointed vehicle, and wake up ready to go at your destination. It may very well be a better way to travel even if you are going 1000 miles, which has got to be more than 50% of air travel.
The Beecher (aka Peotone) airport way way south of Chgo was first dreamed of by Republicans to steal O'Hare's thunder. Chgo retaliated with an alliance with Gary Indiana's airport, which is now called Gary Chicago airport. Millions of O'Hare $$ now flow to Indiana to prop up that ghost airport.

Some Democrats in Chgo have taken up the challenge to build Peotone, notably congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and that's another drama onto itself. Locals in Will County see the Chgo Democrats efforts as just another land/cash grab now that cash to grab in Chgo is in shorter supply.
Ah, the Rural Air Service Alliance, the little known, but taxpayer money wasting, Amtrak of the skies.

If we could just stop wasting money like this, we wouldn't have to mortgage our future to the Chinese. Sigh,,,,,, the government sucks at what should be left to the private sector.
A story very similar to the convention and sports stadium boondoggles.

Taxpayer money allows pols to reap campaign contributions from firms and unions which will gobble up those public bucks.

Voters generally keep falling for the same scam, so......
N: You forget the corruption factor. These projects are great opportunities to repay favors - to unoins, to developers etc. Every large project involves corruption, whether it is 'legal' graft or otherwise.

The real benefits are a remote consideration. This is the new normal in modern America.
Southwest doesn't fly
Cranky Flier's defenition of success is SWA's route making or losing money. As you can see, he doesn't look at the cost to built the airport. He's just looking at the route.

Either way, the subsidy for the flight has been ended. It'll be interesting to see if SWA continues to serve the airport if and whe it expands in the area now that they've bought AirTrin.

http://crankyflier.com/category/airline/southwest/

Something very strange happened last week. St Joe and Southwest agreed to end the subsidy agreement that was put in place to get the airline to start service to Panama City, Florida back in 2010. Now, why is that strange? Because the subsidy was actually successful. But why would Southwest end it if it was successful? There are good reasons.


"Defenders of the program, like the advocacy group Rural Air Service Alliance, call these airports “economic drivers.” But if that were the case, the economic activity generated by the subsidies would have made many of the facilities self-sustaining after all this time." ~STEVEN MALANGA

Not that I agree with the argument but the way I find it phrased more often is not that it's going to lead to economic growth so much as it's the one thing keeping them alive. Take away the subsidy for service to Thief River Falls, MN and the town will die. It's not a matter of thriving but much more pressing, mere survival.

Of course this is hard to disprove since it can not be proven. It doesn't seem likely that things will change much. Even with the flights it's not clear how much longer companies like Artic Cat and Digikey will remain in town. Or at least how much their operations will continue or expand in that lil' town of 8k+.

Nor is it clear it it matters. Fargo is 2 hours away and Grand Forks an hour drive. More so other companies have coped with the lack of flights. They are both manufacturing companies which could move or stay regardless of flights. For example, Artic Cat's long lost brotha Polaris just announced they're closing a manufacturing facility in Osceola, WI - an easy drive from MSP - and moving it to Wisconsin.

Anywhoooooooooo............ thank you for the article.
One of the largest, if not the largest, interest groups who campaign for public works projects is the construction unions. Yet, there is a second group which also campaigns for taxpayer funding of airports, stadiums, convention centers, and all the "economic development" projects like them. It's investment bankers, who hope to earn fees from handling the bond issue. It's the same old problem of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs.
This sounds vaguely like a modern day Cargo Cult - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cults - make all the right moves, and the material benefits will flow...
Not to worry -- the Great Obama has a plan...
A very interesting article. One more example that spending Other Peoples Money often does not have desirable result.
In Japan not to long ago Airport number 98 was put in action. The same story, a lot of airports in Japan with low traffic put very high fees on the airlines, thereby crippling and bankrupting the airlines.
Alas people will never learn as long as taxpayers hand over the money.
Gerard de Bruin
The Netherlands
EXCELLENT ARTICLE!!!
Here in southern California, the idea of an off-shore airport gets resurrected every 30 years or so. So far, it hasn't happened - and, hopefully, never will

Never mind, though. We've got the bullet train on the way...Sigh...
Wow. Where to start? Pilots using their efforts to fly fuel from berg to berg while they deplete it? Is that a "job" one should promote or wish upon another human?

Also, don't these county and city officials know that one of the major problems with airports - since they existed - is that folks move near them and then complain about the noise, forcing them to move? Residential and commercial aerotropolis: An idea so crazy it just might be crazy. Those promoting it: Reminding us that local government isn't always such great shakes.
Wow. Where to start? Pilots using their efforts to fly fuel from berg to berg while they deplete it? Is that a "job" one should promote or wish upon another human?

Also, don't these county and city officials know that one of the major problems with airports - since they existed - is that folks move near them and then complain about the noise, forcing them to move? Residential and commercial aerotropolis: An idea so crazy it just might be crazy. Those promoting it: Reminding us that local government isn't always such great shakes.