‘Skinned’ enough at PIT

‘Skinned’ enough at PIT

As the late legendary commentator Paul Harvey was famous for quipping: “Now, the rest of the story.”

It was a month ago that the Post-Gazette reported how expanded air cargo service at Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) might offer “a silver lining” to a facility “battered” by the coronavirus pandemic.

“As flights have plummeted and travelers have all but disappeared because of the COVID-19 pandemic, cargo has emerged as a bit of a bright spot at the Findlay airport,” the P-G reports.

Continued the P-G dispatch:

“At a time when virtually every commercial airline is slashing flights because of the lack of demand for travel, UPS and FedEx have reached out to inquire about possibly adding service, said Christina Cassotis, CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority … .

“’We’re aware that we could be seeing more activity from both of them,’ she said.”

That’s because, the P-G further reports, “E-commerce has seen a huge surge in demand as millions of people sheltering at home shop for goods and services online.”

Who knows how long that surge might last as the country slowly reopens for in-person business.

But that’s not the whole story.

As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, prior to the pandemic more than half of all air cargo traveled on passenger flights. But far fewer passenger flights mean less freight has been hauled that way and that has led to much higher freight costs.

Thus, the UPS-es and FedEx-es of the world are looking to add service to meet demand for more reasonable freight charges.

But, and as broached in a previous At Large, at what cost to the public treasury?

It’s a valid question considering the Allegheny County Airport Authority subsidized Qatar Air Cargo to the tune of a couple of million dollars in a contract that incentivized failure – in fact, paying Qatar not to meet its tonnage goals.

So warped was the authority’s mindset that it offered Qatar a second deal. Qatar stopped flying out of PIT in December; it remains unclear what amount of the new subsidy, if any, was paid out.

And this is what Cassotis now says was part of a grand plan “to position the airport for increased cargo flights and logistics”?

Oh, we’ve not even again recounted the failure after failure after failure of bribing passenger airlines to serve PIT, only to pull out when the subsidies ended and their publicly subsidized business model failed.

If UPS and FedEx want to, in response to market demands – temporary as they may be — add expanded cargo service on their own dime, that’s great. But taxpayers (or any other public dollars) should have no skin in this game.

After all, John and Jane Q. Taxpayer have been skinned enough.

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