Detroit’s Second Airport Will Be Resurrected With $100 Million In Taxpayer Cash

The U.S. has been shoveling money into airports. Even before the Biden administration’s infrastructure law, the CARES Act funneled money to airport infrastructure with bizarre consequences. For instance the bulk of the $300 million from that package that went to Dallas – Fort Worth airport in 2020 passed through to American Airlines, on top of the $10 billion in direct taxpayer cash and subsidized loans that carrier received.

Tiny airports got more money than they can ever spend from the package.

  • Merced, California, which lacked commercial service entirely, got $17 million. Garden City, Kansas got $18 million. The East Wenatchee, Washington airport (airport code “EAT”) got $18 million as well.

  • Knox County Regional Airport (“RKD”) in Owls Head, Maine received $17,925,850 which is the cost of operating that airport for 25 years.

  • Devils Lake, North Dakota received 50 times what they spend in a year. Merrill Field in Alaska got nine years of expenses. Johnstown, Pennsylavia’s airport which averaged about a dozen passengers a day before the pandemic got $5 million.

There’s this idea of ‘infrastructure’ and it’s romantic and there are high-profile projects. Everyone knows how bad a structure New York LaGuardia was before it got a refresh (though $10 billion later we didn’t get more capacity from the prettier spaces). But infrastructure in the U.S. takes too long and costs too much.

And when we allocate ‘money for infrastructure’ we do stupid things with it, like giving $100 million to a zombie airport near Detroit that hasn’t had commercial service in 20 years. The plan is to create “a state-of-the-art airport” according to Detroit officials. Of course Detroit already has a state-of-the-art airport.

The new plan will allow the city to make transformational investment in the airport, including new hangars, a new control tower, improved taxiways and safety zone, new airport-related development opportunities, as well as the return of the Benjamin Davis Aerospace Academy to the airport grounds.

…the airport is expected to generate additional take-offs and landings, without the need for a runway expansion. Because of the airport’s location next to Gethsemane Cemetery, the city of Detroit is unable to extend the primary runway safety zone to accommodate larger aircraft.

Detroit City Airport (now “Coleman A. Young International Airport”) is a general aviation facility that was the area’s primary airport until just after World War II. It’s six miles from downtown, and saw service from Southwest until 1993. Pro Air was based there but grounded by the FAA in September 2000 for poor maintenance practices.

I’d love to see competition against Delta from a close-in airport, but spending $100 million to get there seems questionable. And spending $100 million in taxpayer money to support more private jets, which is how the airport is used today, is more troublesome still.

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