Pork for airports now at $1 million per daily flight

We’ve noted that Congress has spent millions of dollars in subsidies for an airport in Rep. John Murtha’s home district, including $800,000 this year to repave the runway used by a whopping 20 people each day. That’s not the only airport living off of federal subsidies, however, as ABC News reports today. They focus on Greenbrier Valley Airport, which gets two flights a day, and for that will get $2 million from Congress to refurbish their terminal:


The Greenbrier Valley Airport, the gateway to the ritzy Greenbrier resort where rooms start at $500 a night, is about to get more than $2 million in federal stimulus funds to spruce up the terminal building.

Only two commercial flights a day come in and out of the Lewisburg, W.Va., airport and, on average, each plane carries six passengers.

But U.S. tax dollars keep the airport in business. In addition to stimulus funds the airport received, the federal government subsidizes the commercial flights to the tune of $562 per passenger through the FAA’s Essential Air Service program, which supports rural airports through a $175 million annual appropriation.

Indeed, dozens of small, U.S. airports depend on federal funds for their survival, prompting critics to complain that these “airports to nowhere” fly too few passengers to justify the subsidies.

For 12 passengers a day, all GVA needs is a Quonset hut and a desk with a telephone.  Only the federal government would spend $2 million on a building that gets 12 people a day passing through it.  It’s these kind of decisions that make people uneasy about government running, oh, say, the entire health-care system.

Of course, the pork recipients have a different perspective:

“In Washington terms, $175 million is really just a rounding error,” O’Sullivan said. “And to cancel [the funds] would be too widespread pain for too little gain.”

Hey, that’s funny.  Can we say the same thing about CEO pay, too?  How about the normal 3.5% profit margin made by the health insurers?  That looks like “just a rounding error,” especially in Washington terms.


There is no justification possible for spending $2 million on a building that has customers a day.  That’s not a rounding error; it’s boneheaded bureaucracy, and pork-barrel politics.

Greenbrier has a long-time connection to Congress.  The expansive and expensive resort has long been a favorite of the political elite and the powerful.  It also served as a secret Cold War bunker for Congress for decades until the Washington Post exposed it in 1992 and rendered the American investment in it worthless.  The Greenbrier resort announced its bankruptcy in March of this year, and this looks suspiciously like a pot-sweetener for the Marriott chain, which had expressed interest in buying it.

Congress should re-evaluate the entire rural airport subsidy program, or at the very least calculate subsidies based on usage rather than political connections.  These earmarks are nothing more than boondoggles that serve as political payoffs.

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David Strom 6:00 PM | May 21, 2024