Almost everyone is aware that the federal government pays farmers not to grow certain crops. But not many know that taxpayers are also being forced to pay airlines to fly empty planes. It’s true. According to the Associated Press, the $200 million federal Essential Air Service (EAS) program subsidizes airline service to less populous areas of the country; and because it does so on a per-flight — not per-passenger — basis, airlines sometimes fly empty planes back and forth just to keep the free funds flowing.
EAS was created in 1978 as an outgrowth of airline deregulation — deregulation, like most words, not meaning the same thing in Washington as it does outside the Beltway. Some in Congress believed that airline service to rural areas was so critical that it had to be maintained even if it was unprofitable to airlines; and who better to take on an unprofitable venture — and guarantee its continued unprofitability — than Uncle Sam?
University of California at Berkeley professor Severin Borenstein, one of the designers of EAS, told the AP that “Congress originally intended for the program to end after 10 years.”
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