Questioning authorities

Questioning authorities

It’s always rewarding to have an engaged reader respond to one of our blogs, policy briefs or op-eds (the latter based on those white papers). Such is the case with a local airline pilot emailing me on May 17 about “growth” at Pittsburgh International Airport.

The astute correspondent was reacting to a Feb. 22 op-ed in the Tribune-Review (based on Allegheny Institute Policy Brief Vol. 18, No. 7). And his comments are worth sharing herewith:

“I recently read your article concerning Pittsburgh airport subsidies, mainly because I’ve been very curious about the subsidies that the airport has given to haul cargo to a foreign-run airline called Qatar Airways.

“I’m really concerned about this because Qatar is an oil-rich country that competes unfairly because of cash injections from (its) own nation.”

He notes that the United States recently reached an agreement that will govern how the big Middle East 3 (ME3) – Emirates, Etihad and Qatar — operate.

That, I should interject here, is a deal that requires these carriers to disclose government aid. Or as the State Department put it in January:

“Within two years, those airlines should publicly disclose significant new transactions with state-owned enterprises and take steps to ensure that such transactions are based on commercial terms.”

Indeed, the nod-nod, wink-wink of the deal looms large. But time will tell.

That explained, back to our friendly email correspondent:

“I have a personal interest in this subject because I’m an airline pilot and was surprised when a Qatar(Boeing) 777 flew over my head inbound to PIT and have been trying to learn more.

“I guess my concern is: Will Qatar be able to show appreciable demand for cargo hauling to Luxembourg? We have many cargo shipping options to get freight to Europe such as UPS, FEDEX, ATLAS, Kalitta, to name a few, all of which are U.S. carriers competing for business.

“Even if this subsidy went to a company such as Cathay Pacific Cargo, a foreign company, I would be less likely to object because it is not a state- owned/ -run airline.

“In the end I’m asking you what can I do to help change this. I’d prefer if this subsidy went to a U.S. cargo airline and then only if the demand is there.

“I guess I feel powerless to make my voice heard for any appreciable change, and maybe you might have some power or guidance in stopping flushing my hard-earned money down the toilet.

“Qatar doesn’t need a subsidy; the janitors at PIT need a subsidy.”

And just to be clear and fair, in a follow-up email the writer concedes that all such “subsidies are improper.”

The writer’s Qatar and PIT references, of course, was to an astounding deal that funnels massive, million-dollar-plus subsidizes to the carrier not just for setting up shop here but for not meeting cargo goals.

Qatar continues to fall far short of projections on which the deal was conceived. Incentivizing failure begets what, class? Failure, of course. And, at least for Qatar, free money. Public money.

Do remember, the Allegheny County Airport Authority initially refused to release specifics of this deal. Gee, wonder why? That said, the stated reason – that release of such information could give other airports a “competitive advantage” – didn’t fly.

Subsidized “competition” is so, so, so un-economic, after all.

So, back to the correspondent’s primary question of what he can do to help change such a mindset. And the answer is quite fundamental, and it’s what everybody should do:

Continue to raise such valid points of order publicly and question the actions of public officials and authorities engaging in dubious public policy actions.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).