The return of British Airways

The return of British Airways

Those taxpayer-subsidized British Airways (BA) flights between Pittsburgh and London resumed Friday last after a more than two-year pandemic hiatus.

And they came with much of the same fact-challenging hoopla that marked their return in April 2019 after a 20-year absence.

“The return of BA is a coup for PIT (Pittsburgh International Airport),” “reported” BlueSkyNews, the in-house propaganda, er, public relations, organ for the Allegheny County Airport Authority.

As if having to bribe an airline with $3 million over two years to fly to your airport somehow is a “coup.”

And it trotted out again for the umpteenth time this claim:

“An economic impact study commissioned by PIT in 2018 found that the Pittsburgh-London route was expected to contribute over $50 million annually to the region’s economy.”

Never mind, as Allegheny Institute president-emeritus Jake Haulk found (in Policy Brief Vol. 18, No. 31), that the study projecting $57 million in annual economic benefits was badly flawed.

In fact, Haulk a Ph.D. economist, concluded that “it is hard to see any upside to handing over tax dollars to the airline.”

Additionally, BlueSkyNews reports:

“British Airways officials chose Pittsburgh for service citing the region’s renaissance, which boasts a rapidly growing technology sector and a booming scene for life sciences research and development.

“’This flight matters to the tech economy, innovation economy and the universities,’ said Audrey Russo, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. “It matters to all people who are building businesses.”

But if there is such a demand, why do these flights have to be subsidized?

As dubious as is the Airport Authority’s PR contentions are, those of British Airways are rah-rah-sis-boom-bah-ing at its most uninformed.

To wit, BA calls Pittsburgh “Pennsylvania’s coolest city,” one that “has gone from Rust Belt giant to full-pelt hipster heaven.”

Never mind that the population continues to decline; economic growth remains quite stagnant (despite the constant high-tech spiels); shootings (some in broad daylight) are out of control; the public schools are an outrageously expensive tutorial in public education failure; city officials have proposed a cost-raising and supply-retarding housing law being challenged in court as unconstitutional; public transit costs are out of whack with comparable systems and, well, you get the picture.

And this “full-pelt hipster heaven,” according to British Airways, “is one winning destination”?

Who writes this stuff? Indeed, the first casualty of “public relations” remains the truth.

Yet Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis contends that “BA really, really took the time to understand and believe in this market.”

Really?

If BA “understands” the Pittsburgh market as poorly as it does what’s really going on here in “full-pelt hispster heaven,” reasonable people cannot be faulted to wonder how long these revived flights will last – and if more taxpayer subsidies are ahead.

And that would be true even without the more than doubling of jet fuel prices over the last year (a trend expected to continue); fare increases, in general, now up 33 percent (from April to May alone); industry-wide pilot shortages and, lest we forget, the specter of a crippling summer strike by British Airways workers over pay cuts imposed during the pandemic.

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