Played for suckers by Qatar

Played for suckers by Qatar

A Wall Street Journal story on Qatar Airways “flying past” its chief rival Emirates Airline forces us to briefly recount the cluster cluck involving Qatar’s cargo subsidiary at Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT).

You’ll remember the nearly economically incomprehensible deal in which the Allegheny County Airport Authority paid Qatar Cargo about $1.5 million to fail at PIT. It likely was more. But who’s counting?

That is, in an attempt to help Qatar establish its cargo service locally, it was contractually incentivized to not meet shipped weight thresholds. In failure, it took the money and ran.

Now, given that Qatar resumed cargo flights this past December, and presumably with no taxpayer carrot, Airport Authority officials are wont to argue that their “strategy” worked.

As did Vince Gastgeb, the airport’s vice president of government and corporate affairs, when those flights resumed sans subsidies:

“The initial Qatar Airways Cargo flights illustrated to the cargo and business community that service can work and that Pittsburgh is a cargo solution to the worldwide freight ecosystem,” Gastgeb said last December (in Blue Sky News, the Airport Authority’s house organ).

But those initial Qatar cargo flights failed – and failed miserably – because a government agency contractually encouraged that failure. “Failure works,” is what Gastgeb really is saying.

But what the public should be saying is that “Failure pays” for corporate sucker fish who have no qualms about how they get public money — just as long as they get it.

What makes all this nonsense more nonsensical comes in The Journal’s Monday story on how Qatar is conducting its passenger air service. In order to eclipse Emirates Airline as the world’s largest long-haul carrier – which Qatar now technically is, as measured by capacity – the newspaper reports:

“Doha-based Qatar is flying planes that are often empty on routes around the globe to increase market share.”

How can it afford to do so? Easy. Qatar Airways is a state-run operation with a virtually bottomless pit of cash on which to draw.

The real kicker here is that it also was state-run when its cargo cousin cut the deal with the Airport Authority to profit through failure.

Gastgeb appears to defend the Airport Authority’s strategy by adding:

“Along with the service goes economic generation and jobs to a lot of regional companies at a time when it is greatly needed.”

But taxpayers have no business heavily subsidizing any private business to that end. And they certainly had no business heavily subsidizing an already heavily subsidized state-run airline.

Simply put, the kind of propped-up ends that Gastgeb lauds never justify such robbing-the-public-pocket means. Being played for suckers hardly is sound public policy.

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