The OneJet travesty

The OneJet travesty

What a mess. And, oh, how sadly rich:

The Allegheny County Airport Authority, grand giver of millions of dollars in corporate wealthfare to just about anything that claims to be an airline, is licking a very big wound these days.

Friday last in Common Pleas Court, the authority was forced to bring suit against one of the highly touted beneficiaries of its attempts at command economics with the public purse.

You might recall that it was in June 2016 that the authority gave OneJet a cool million dollars in state gambling tax proceeds to launch 10 routes by the end of 2017. As the Tribune-Review reminds, part of the deal was that OneJet was to fly each of the routes five days a week for at least five years.

But the airline fell a tad short of the agreement. While it did briefly have eight destinations and talked of adding service to three more locales, it now only flies to two destinations – Indianapolis and Hartford.

The Airport Authority’s lawsuit was filed after OneJet refused to return $763,000 of the $1 million subsidy. And the lawsuit also says the carrier has not paid a $54,000 security deposit and hasn’t been timely in paying fees and lease payments.

Certainly doesn’t sound as if OneJet was very appreciative of the public’s largess. It appears to claim that part of its non-performance is its conversion to larger jets with more seating capacity.

All that said, perhaps the richest part of this failed exercise is this paragraph from the Airport Authority’s complaint:

“As a result of OneJet’s breach, (the authority) has suffered and will suffer monetary damages … lost customers, lost revenue, lost profits and/or lost customer and industry goodwill, without limitation.”

The airline has been “unjustly enriched” at the authority’s expense, the lawsuit says.

Gee, no mention of taxpayers being unjustly fleeced and despoiled of a portion of their wealth, eh?

Of course, that $1 million is not the only money OneJet received from the public tax kitty. There are loans valued at $1.5 million from the county and a $500,000 state loan.

Nobody seems to be talking about the status of those other corporate wealthfare line items.

And as the Trib also reminds, “Robert Lewis, an Airport Authority board member, was also a member of OneJet’s board of directors as of December.” He is a non-voting member.

But, and as the Post-Gazette points out, Lewis now finds himself involved with one entity suing another entity in which he’s also involved.

No conflict of interest there, right? In fact, multiply the conflict times two.

A primary issue for the Airport Authority – and based on a letter to OneJet, the P-G reports – appears to be the authority’s serious reservations about the airline’s management.

So, here’s the $1 million-plus question: Were their no concerns about management all the way back in 2016?

An aviation consultant flippantly told the newspaper that such disputes are the reason “God gave us the court system.”

Really? Or is it that such disputes are the product of poor decision-making by public officials throwing public money at private concerns having no business receiving it and those officials never being held accountable for it?

Yet, the Allegheny County Airport Authority’s Great Subsidy Machine keeps shoveling money at airlines. Never mind that it is abundantly clear that such subsidies are bad economics. Such a public policy travesty should not be abided.

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