‘Fresh breeze’? A continued rank smell at PIT

‘Fresh breeze’? A continued rank smell at PIT

Here it goes again:

The Allegheny County Airport Authority has announced a new round of public subsidies for yet another airline to fly in and out of Pittsburgh International Airport.

“A fresh breeze is blowing through” PIT, is how the Post-Gazette story of May 21 began telling the tale. Sad to say, this latest story of marketplace perversion is as smelly as all prior. But do give the P-G’s Mark Belko credit for spending a considerable amount of space detailing the authority’s “checkered” past subsidies and failures.

Breeze Airways will begin flights at PIT on July 8 to Hartford, Conn., Providence. R.I., Charleston, S.C., and Norfolk, Va. The Hartford and Providence destinations will represent new locales for PIT.

As the P-G further notes, “Pittsburgh is one of 16 cities that will be part of Breeze’s initial route system. The airline’s first flights between the cities of Charleston, Tampa and Hartford are scheduled to start Thursday (May 27), with others being added each week through July 22.”

Other cities initially to be part of Breeze’s routes are Louisville, Ky.; Tulsa, Okla.; Akron/Canton and Columbus, Ohio; Bentonville/Fayetteville, Ark., and Richmond, Va.

Cut-rate fares are in the offing, at least initially.

And, from various news reports in various cities, including Pittsburgh, the Breeze flights will be subsidized and likely significantly – possibly, in toto, “in the millions of dollars,” the P-G reports.

But Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis refused to release PIT’s specifics, saying the agreement had not been signed (as of May 21).

And that’s an issue in and of itself: a public authority dangling public dollars (no matter their public source) to a private concern and refusing to go public with the deal until it is signed, sealed and delivered.

Whose money is it anyway?

Cassotis calls Breeze founder David Neeleman a “proven airline entrepreneur.” Neeleman was behind WestJet, JetBlue Airways, Azul Brazilian Airlines and charter company Morris Air, subsumed later by Southwest.

So, if Neeleman is so “proven,” why does he need public subsidies? Sounds like he’s just another in a long line of proven sucker fishes playing airport authority CEOs for suckers.

Cassotis, of course, has been suckered (or sucker-punched) many times – by British Airways, Condor, WOW Air and OneJet, among others.

The Breeze Airways subsidies yet again raise the larger question of the proper role of airport authorities.

As Jake Haulk, president-emeritus of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, noted in 2018 (in what has become an evergreen observation):

“(W)hat we have here is another useful object lesson – a lesson that seems never to be learned: Subsidy of airlines beyond providing a place to land and take off (and) the parking for passengers and other infrastructure is a gamble at best and poor economics at worst.”

Furthermore, “Subsidizing airlines so they can lower the fare price to fill a plane to desired levels or so they can make a flight profitable with lower than desired loads cannot be justified,” Haulk stresses.

That the Allegheny County Airport Authority (and other authorities around the country) continue to saddle taxpayers with such proven bad bets is no better than such officials placing their thumbs firmly against their noses and waggling their fingers furiously at the tax-paying public.

There’s simply no excuse for this baseless “public policy.”

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).