Blogs » Paradigm Shifter » Airport Tower Funding Debate


As reported by the Advocate, the FAA will withdraw its funding of the Victoria Regional Airport's traffic control tower on April 21, and the locals are scurrying to find a way to meet the funding shortfall. We'll hear all manner of justification for the local funding of the tower—which is a step closer to correct—but it's still far from the proper arrangement needed for Victoria to not live a lie. Until airport customers are paying the real cost of the airport services, our betters (pick your meaning) will continue to play mind games & shell games with the public (ahem, "flights to nowhere").

For the sake of efficiency (since nothing's changed), I'll repost some of my applicable comments on the story about the contracted & highly subsidized carrier service out of VRA:

June 4, 2012 at 11:14 a.m.

VicAd: "There are those who will say that if a business is not profitable, no amount of government support will make it successful. They would apply a ruthless analysis of the situation as the right result of survival of the fittest."

Guilty as charged.

VicAd: "We believe that consistent, convenient and cost-effective air service in Victoria is vital to continued economic success."

For whose "economic success" and at what public cost?

VicAd: "We believe a strong public/private partnership should seek viable air carriers to serve Victoria."

What public cost per passenger is acceptable?

VicAd: "Our community is at the center of economic momentum... It's a great time economically for our community..."

Then why aren't private dollars chasing the opportunity to supply such a necessary, high demand service to the region?

Pages 1-2 of this study show 10,076 passengers to/from Victoria per year, but that number doubles the FAA data to assume each passenger made a round trip, so it's really just 5,038 unique passengers, which is fewer than 14 per day out of Victoria. Each passenger receives $184.27 ($368.54 per round trip) in Federal subsidy for every flight totaling $1.857M. The fare is only $142 for a total payment of $326 to the carrier per one way flight. The study also shows an average travel time of 2.59hrs, which is comparable to the drive time to the same airport. There's some serious value misalignment built into this arrangement.

Could it be that, as you've pointed out, supplying flight service to Victoria isn't an economically sustainable model at the price passengers are willing to pay? The way I see it, passengers prefer to make the 2-hour drive over flying in a small aircraft to a single destination, even considering the artificially-low price. I prefer to have the option of flying out of Houston, Austin or San Antonio to accommodate my travel plans.

I see this typical rationale for more gov't subsidization of an underutilized service as just another indicator of our leaders being out of touch with the fiscal responsibility Victorians demand of themselves and their representatives. (Sadly, most don't understand what's really going on.) If air travel is in such high demand, passengers should pay the real cost or drive to the nearest major airport. The real measure of value of our airport to our citizens can only be seen by stripping away the non-stop Coast Guard flights and the Federal flight subsidies. Without that, how viable is our airport?

Here's an interesting blog on the subject.

June 4, 2012 at 1:33 p.m.

When did the cost to the taxpayers become secondary to "cost to industry"? If you need to travel for business, are you or your company willing to pay the true price of the air fare? Shouldn't it be expected that one would pay a premium for an otherwise impractical convenience? Does the 2-2.5hr drive to one of five major airports keep you from performing your job?

At some point, we need to let the real costs of goods & services be paid by those who use them.

June 5, 2012 at 10:41 a.m.

I've done a fair amount of business traveling, and I've never run into a situation where a 2hr drive stopped me from doing business. In fact, back in 2001-02, I contracted a small firm in Manteca, CA to fabricate an automated fluid system I designed, and geography had nothing to do with my decision knowing I would need to travel there to do a functional checkout. Sure enough, I flew into San Francisco, rented a car and drove about 1.5hrs to Manteca. I even stayed there for over a week. My decision had everything to do with the qualifications of the contractor (amidst ample competition) and nothing to do with their vicinity to an airport.

If Victoria has the right business climate, they will come, and the lack of subsidized air travel that will save them 30-45min (assuming no layover) won't deter them. (Yes, I understand we want to create the appearance of prosperity, at a minimum.) I see the clamoring for subsidized air travel as an admission that we don't have the right business conditions to justify self-sustaining air travel. As is the case with many of the central-planning schemes being hatched by our leaders, we are skipping some foundational economic steps and the taxpayers are needed to bridge those gaps for them. And if there's a need for Victorians to do business elsewhere, let them pay the full cost. NO MORE BUSINESS HANDOUTS!!!

Caterpillar was supposed to be the honey for the ants—as I'm sure it will be—so let's see how much mileage we can get from it before tapping the taxpayers again. We've already overstepped by accommodating CAT suppliers who might've located here anyway. Stay out of the trough for a while!

As always, your comments are welcome!