Wednesday, August 03, 2011

FAA Shutdown Leaves Hidden Blessings For Energy-Constrained U.S.

One early casualty of the federal budget battles is continued funding for air transit programs.  The FAA has partially shut down until Congress can re-authorize its budget.  I've had the displeasure of listening to coverage of this episode on NPR, where it's portrayed as some kind of disaster.  I prefer to look on the bright side.

The Essential Air Service bears the hallmarks of a useless government handout.  Rural air routes that were discontinued for being uneconomical should not be kept alive with government subsidies.  Ending the program will lead to no more than an inconvenience as rural travelers either switch to trains and buses or stay where they are. 

Loss of tax revenue will hurt in the short term but restoring this particular function is the easiest fix of all.  Loss of airport construction is the biggest hidden blessing possible in this situation.  We should put aside our envy of gleaming new airports in China long enough to realize that air travel is the single most expensive (and least fuel efficient) way to move people and cargo.  Letting go of nonviable airports that don't serve major metropolitan hubs opens growth opportunities for rail service.  Peak Oil will demand this transition anyway. 

The coming months will bring us plenty of sob stories about government programs that were once affordable at the height of our civilization's power.  Rural air transit and construction at low-traffic airports are inappropriate uses of capital for an empire in decline. 

Full disclosure:  No positions in airline stocks at this time.