Privatize Pulliam Airport
and let the free market work

Sounding Board Editorial #6 (March 9, 2008)

Dennis Foster

     The city council wants there to be more daily flights from our local airport, into which we have poured millions of dollars to spruce up and which the Feds have spent millions on runway improvements.  Probably not the best use of public funds, but its a done deal.  But, it gets worse.  To "promote" competition, the city has been willing to pay up to a million dollars to guarantee passenger loads in order to attract another airline.  Alas, does anybody understand the principle of competition?  It seems not.  So, time to speculate about what a truly free market would look like.  The editorial ran on March 9.

Although there are a myriad of rules that apply to government airports, what if Pulliam were privatized and competitively operated . . . ?

A traveler arrives at the airport to find plenty of parking, thanks to the new J.W. Powell Parking Garage.  Built in less time than it takes to have a second reading on parking meters, it provides wintertime travelers great shelter.  Or, park in one of the private surface lots, and save a few bucks.

Once in the terminal you can check in at a computer kiosk, or with a ďflight agent.Ē  They can help you with a reservation on any one of the twenty flights scheduled for today, like the Southwest flight to El Paso, or the Continental flight to Denver.  And, donít forget that a new start-up airline has a noon flight to John Wayne Airport out in California.

Flights change daily.  Airlines donít need to contract to provide a specific level of service for a specific period of time.  All they do is bid on landing and take-off windows.  Airlines publish schedules about a week in advance, although some schedule particular flights up to six months in advance.  Some airlines have come, and gone.  Some successful travel destinations have been a surprise, like the twice monthly flight to Lincoln, Nebraska.

Instead of using taxpayer money to pay for airline service, letís use this opportunity to let the vibrant, creative and dynamic forces of the free market work their magic.  No, we canít?  Yes, we can!

Dennis Foster has a Ph.D. in economics, teaches at the university level and is an avid Grand Canyon hiker.

Shortly after this, the council agreed to put up $600,000 to get Horizon Air to sign on for two (yes, 2!) daily flights to Los Angeles.  So far, Horizon plans to have one of these flights stop in Prescott, lengthening the flight time.  And, these flights will be turboprops, not jets, which was the whole point of the runway extension to begin with.  The problem, of course, is that the city wants the airline to sign a long-term commitment, which deters true competition here.

Another interesting aspect here is that the presumed purpose of this new service will be to promote business growth in Flagstaff.  That is, if there is regular service to L.A., as well as to Phoenix (the existing service), then new firms may be more easily enticed into locating here.  Not only does that seem absurd, but now there's proof positive - Horizon is now touting this service as "Flagstaff/Grand Canyon," meaning that they will be catering to the tourist market, not to business travelers.  Who'd thunk it?  Certainly, nobody at City Hall!

Finally, I decided to embrace Barack Obama's rhetoric by closing with his oft-used refrain of "Yes, we can!" 

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