A flight of subsidized fancy

J.D. Tuccille has a terrific article over at Reason that illustrates the lunacy of government subsidies mixing with madcap regulatory excess.  Flying into Los Angeles on a small commuter shuttle, Tuccille couldn’t help noticing that half the seats on the damn plane had been ripped out.  

That’s because the flight was part of a heavily regulated, heavily subsidized program called Essential Air Service, which basically forces airlines to provide travel routes that don’t make economic sense.  This particular airfield gets over $2 million a year in taxpayer subsidies.  Of course, the vast majority of people paying the subsidy will never take a single flight on the service they’re paying for.  Heck, the vast majority of them will never set foot in California.

So why rip 10 seats out of a 19-seat commuter plane?  Well, it’s because the Federal Aviation Administration put forth some stiff pilot qualifications last year, requiring a huge amount of flight time for pilots who operate these little turboprop shuttles.  The regulations don’t apply to aircraft with fewer than ten seats.

I know what you’re thinking: No, no, no way, they can’t just be yanking chairs out of a 19-seat airplane until only 9 seats are left, to comply with that regulation.  But oh yes, that’s exactly what they’re doing.  And it works, or else the FAA would have put a stop to it a long time ago.  Same plane + same pilot, minus 10 seats in the passenger compartment = COMPLIANCE!

This would be lunacy outside the sheltering cocoon of taxpayer subsidization, because passenger planes that can only be half-filled by definition can’t turn a profit.  But within the embrace of Big Government, all things are possible, and the consequences fall upon taxpayers who have no idea how badly they’re getting ripped off.