Fly the Socialist Skies: Republicans Cheer Federally Subsidized Watertown-Pierre-Denver Flight

Market forces keep saying small South Dakota towns aren’t worth air service, and Republicans like Rep. Kristi Noem keep cheering socialism to land planes closer to their homes. Our crypto-socialist Congresswoman was on hand last week to applaud the completion of Aeordynamics Inc.’s first round-trip flight from Watertown to Pierre and Denver and back:

Summing up the magnitude of the moment, Noem said, “This is a great day for Watertown, but really, it’s a great day for all of northeast South Dakota. I’m thrilled to see this airport filled up with people. I caught a lot of flights out of this airport, and I hope to continue to catch many more.

“I hope everybody encourages their family and friends to use this,” Noem added. “This is a wonderful thing to have in a city and it benefits our entire state. It will really help us develop economic growth as well” [Dan Crisler, “Watertown Air Service Goes Airborne Again,” Watertown Public Opinion, 2016.08.16].

Whether we fly or not, you and I are paying $6.79 million a year for two years to help Aerodynamics not lose money on the Watertown-Pierre-Denver route. With twelve flights a week, that’s almost $11,000 per flight in in tax support. Many of the passengers on the inaugural flight appear to have used that inaugural $11K just so they could spend 90 minutes looking and lunching around the Denver airport before flying right back to Watertown.

Pat Powers in propeller beanie
Your tax dollars at work.

To demonstrate the great economic development potential of this subsidy, SDGOP spinster Pat Powers, who pretends to loathe all things socialist, flew the socialist skies himself last week to go see Huey Lewis and the Go-Gos in concert and visit family in Denver. His lips are sealed on any capitalist critique; instead, like a good Bernie Sanders socialist, he cheers that “the first two bags for us were free,” ignoring the fact that our taxes paid for his tote. He praises the “lightning quick jet” in which our taxes whisked him across the Great Plains in place of cheaper turboprop planes. Head over heels in socialist intoxication, Powers broadcasts to terrorists that “getting through the TSA in Watertown is a breeze,” then grouses that a ticket foul-up subjected him to more rigorous security theater in Denver.

Powers apparently doesn’t want government making him take his shoes off, but when he wants a quick vacation, he’s happy to go-go on dollars taken out of our pockets. You’re welcome, Pat.


49 Responses to Fly the Socialist Skies: Republicans Cheer Federally Subsidized Watertown-Pierre-Denver Flight

  1. PlanningStudent

    hmmm… Socialism is when the gov’t does what the market should. The market doesn’t think watertown, pierre, and other towns can support commercial flights. Therefor government involvement does not constitute socialism.

  2. It shocked me that each passenger flying out of Watertown requires a taxpayer subsidy of $738, and that was in 2014 before the subsidy increased. Each passenger = $738 of taxpayer money, and now it’s probably closer to $1,000. That’s some spendy Denver flights. Socialism indeed. But like a good capitalist, Powers looks at his own bottom line to figure out whether he should take Frontier Airlines or the subsidized Watertown flight.

    While legroom is generous on the regional jets, the seats in the small tube cabins seem narrow, as Mr. Powers must know. Next Powers is going to want another subsidy so that airlines can install larger, though fewer seats to accommodate large posteriors. Subsidy, or diet? Subsidy!

  3. Keep studying, PlanningStudent. You’re not quite there yet.

  4. Standard Republican hypocrisy, they only cut government spending to other people, spending on themselves is okay. Those are some mighty spendy tickets.

  5. “hmmm… Socialism is when the gov’t does what the market should. The market doesn’t think watertown, pierre, and other towns can support commercial flights. Therefor government involvement does not constitute socialism.”

    What. The. Hell.

    Is this satire?

  6. Paul Seamans

    I would guess that the main passengers flying into Pierre are pheasant hunters and maybe an occasional politician. Most people go to Rapid City or Sioux Falls.

  7. Planning, government subsidy of air service the market won’t support is as much socialism as the Bernie Sanders plan for government subsidy of postsecondary education that individuals in the market don’t find affordable, a plan widely pointed at by Powers-like Repubs as socialism. If there is an error in terminology, it does not negate the inconsistency in Republican sloganeering and behavior.

  8. Back when we had a government that was for the people regarding travel, you could board a plane in Denver, fly to Scotsbluff, to Rapid City, then to Sioux Falls for a reasonable cost. Then it got deregulated and the sky is the limit for tickets that do not go to many of these places.

  9. Roger Cornelius

    You have to admire republicans like planning students that change the definition of socialism to fit them.
    As has been numerous times, South Dakota is a welfare state that would be dead in the dead in the water if it were not for socialism.

  10. Darin Larson

    PlanningStudent, I’ll help you with your studies. I can understand your confusion:

    When government intervention in the market helps the poor it is called welfare; when government intervention in the market helps the middle class it is called an entitlement program; when government intervention in the market helps the rich it is called economic development.

    When Bernie Sanders talks about government intervention in the market, it is called socialism. When right wing politicians talk about government intervention in the market, it is called stimulating growth. When Democrats talk about raising taxes on high income individuals, it is called class warfare. When Republicans talk about lowering taxes on high income individuals, it is called unleashing the economy.

  11. Kristi shows her true colors on this one.”it is all about Kristi.” Kristi saves a one hour twenty five minute fro the Sioux Falls Airport. Now I understand why she wants to keep cutting programs like Obama Care which has helped millions, school lunch programs and food stamps.

    How can Kristi represent South Dakota when she can not figure out out to get to the Sioux Falls Airport?

    I live in Watertown and this program is a totoal waste of taxpayer money.

  12. Lee Schoenbeck, care to weigh in on the issue as a free market Watertown resident? So when I help pay for a flight out of Pierre or Watertown does it hurt the taxpayers in Rapid City and Sioux Falls even more as they support their airports with tax money?

    Did the taxpayers actually pay for a flight to Denver to publicize this handout? That takes some real chutzpah…or just being tone deaf enough to delegitimize most every talking point out of the GOP on the economy.

    For the record, I’m not against it…just the rampant hypocrisy coming out of the GOP is getting old. Now wondering if it wouldn’t be cheaper to drive to Watertown to fly to Denver than out of SFX…if it is, thanks everyone for making my trip cheaper to see the Broncos and family!

  13. Lee Schoenbeck

    I was for this, and am going to the Jimmy Buffet concert at Red Rocks, until I found out it accommodated a South Dakotan NOT cheering the Vikings — apparently an unintended consequence of linking South Dakota’s 4th largest city with the air network — probably will be a government study on it.

  14. Would that be like a junket Going over seas to shwo people how to vote,

  15. Good one Lee. So Watertown at 21,482 deserves a subsidy for the friendly skies? How many other communities that are bigger should we subsidize?

    Don’t go all Trumpian on me and answer the question about the free market! Answer the question, is Pat’s subsidized trip to Denver for pleasure like Twinkies on an EBT card? Pierre and Watertown get a win, who loses…besides the taxpayers.

    Just so you know, I am a lifelong Vikes fan and even got autographs from Fran Tarkington, Paul Kraus and Billy Brown that mean more now than they did back then.

    Buffet at Red Rocks is great, saw him there in the 80’s…don’t miss it…but maybe drive there just to pass the GOP purity test. ;^)

  16. Lee Schoenbeck whhat a laugh I get out of him.

  17. Mr. Schoenbeck has an unhealthy devotion to that sad football team in Minnesota that has never won one of those Super Bowl things and whose billionaire owner just took massive pubic subsidies to build a new stadium for a fan base too soft to sit outside to watch a game. It all seems very socialist to me. Libbie as all hell.

  18. “Pat’s subsidized trip to Denver for pleasure like Twinkies on an EBT card”

    omg jana, I think I love you

  19. For what it’s worth, EAS was put into place as part of deregulation of the airline industry. I think one can argue it is “conservative” in the sense that EAS was utilized as a way to decrease government intervention and overall expense in the airline market while helping rural areas have access to the national airline hubs. See https://www.transportation.gov/policy/aviation-policy/small-community-rural-air-service/essential-air-service

  20. If there is a buffet in Denver worth going to those towns to do a plane ride from, it better be a big buffet. And if Ms. leslie is loving Ms. jana, I am sure it is a very sisterly, non-leering sort of love.

  21. Cheering the Vikings. ..??? Really? How’s that workin…

    Sorry but I like the team that WON the 50th Super Bowl.

    Interesting that SD Repubs would support a football team in Minnesota. ..considering that darned minimum wage raise thing there and a few other rather “progressive” programs. Like a good teacher salary.

    A Republican supported subsidized flight to the “Mile High (and I do mean HIGH) City…the purveyor of the free enterprise “demon weed”? The horror of it all. The repubs hypocrisy has no boundaries.

    On another subject.

    My grandson said “cmon gramps” seriously. What team u cheering for… the Twins? Go Twins? Really? Lol… Or the ROCKIES!!! How about
    “Goooo Rockies …..Punch em in the Nose!!!

    Airport security is not fun. Anywhere.

  22. Mr. Spike, most SD Repubs like most South Dakotans of any flavor do not follow those Vikings. They were an expansion team back in the day. Like that Tampa team. Any noboby likes those Bronco teams except for a few mouth breathers out here in Rapid.

  23. If Republican hypocrisy has a bright side, it’s making Cory Heidelberger sound like a libertarian. For a moment I wasn’t sure whether I was reading Dakota Free Press or the Ron Paul Liberty Report. :-)

  24. Kurt, I’m just asking that Republicans live up to the Libertarian slogans that they use to beat up Democrats but not to guide their own policymaking.

    I’m thinking about what Jerry and Jana said… Subsidizing air service to Watertown and Pierre may be like helping Pat buy Twinkies with his EBT card, or it may be a sensible government response to the market’s failure to provide useful mass transit to rural communities. How essential is air travel to participation in the modern economy and exercise of basic rights?

    Compare broadband and air travel. I use the Internet every day. My economic and political opportunities would be sharply curtailed without it. I haven’t flown for four years. My wife last flew two years ago. We have a relatively busy regional airport four miles from our house, but most flights cost more than the use we would get, and we can seriously consider driving to Sioux Falls or Minneapolis (or now, Watertown, if we can get a subsidized ticket for $99 to connect with a flight to where we actually want to go) for most flights that would figure into our needs and wants.

    How many people in Codington and surrounding counties really need to fly on a regular basis? How much is the general population’s life improved by this subsidy? How much non-shared travel, time, and fuel do we save?

  25. mtr: good reminder! Pierre got $1.3 million in federal stimulus dollars (thanks, Obama!) to improve the airport. How nice.

  26. Roger, I disagree with PlanningStudent’s interpretation, but I won’t jump on Planning Student for Republicanism (I’m not sure PS is a member) or for word games. It may be that neither I nor the angry Republicans rationalizing their suicidal Trump votes are using the word socialism correctly. When I get done beating Pat with his own inconsistency, I can see how Adam Smith would fit this government subsidy into his own capitalist framework of the proper roles of government. Government exists to repel invaders, quash domestic bad guys, and take care of needs that the free market can’t or won’t. The government doesn’t own the means of production at the Watertown airport; it’s just handing a private company cash to keep them afloat at they provide air service to a population that couldn’t afford it otherwise. (Well, wait a minute: Kristi Noem could afford it: she’s making six figures plus her husband’s income… both of which paychecks are federally subsidized.)

    Essential Air Service may not strictly satisfy the definition of socialism. But Kristi Noem’s example makes clear it’s at least welfare for the wealthy.

  27. I sat outside to watch the Vikings play the Packers. Man was it hot that day! If only I could get taxpayers to subsidize my trip to Minneapolis.

  28. Something needs to be done for travel in and out of South Dakota because it is atrocious. I don’t think having subsidized flights from Watertown, Pierre and Denver is going to be the answer but it might be a start.

    How many companies want to do business with South Dakota when just getting there is going to be a huge expense in money and time when they can fly in and out of places like Minneapolis or Denver for less than half? Then, if they want to set up shop in a small MN or CO town, they don’t have to drive that far. Getting to Pierre, Rapid City, or even Sioux Falls from an airline hub is time consuming especially in the winter.

    If you were an out of state company that is looking for a new expansion to your business, South Dakota is a non factor. Would you want to do business with South Dakota when immediately you are going to be saddled with the initial huge fee of just getting there in the hopes of establishing a sustainable business?

    Take for example that South Dakota has to have a St. Cloud, MN based company print its ballots. Why isn’t it the other way around? Why isn’t SD printing ballots for MN? That company printing SD ballots just upgraded one of its facilities: http://www.bizjournals.com/twincities/news/2016/04/19/cool-offices-seachange-print-innovations-plymouth.html.
    How many jobs did just this one business create and all its associated benefits from the maintenance of the building, the employees hired, the cleaning of the building and the vendors providing products and services for that business? Was South Dakota even an option for this business? Probably not. That is just one random business that is not in South Dakota. How many more businesses are like that? Here’s the rub: South Dakota is exporting money to this company. South Dakota, in this case, is creating jobs for Minnesotans.

    If you live in SD, you know how expensive it is just to get out of there for a vacation to some place other than the surrounding states. The same holds true for people wanting to visit South Dakota.

    How much money is being exported out of South Dakota because it doesn’t have an infrastructure to attract business and tourists?

    To make money, you have to invest money. Maybe South Dakota just wants to just keep their current status quo.

  29. Paul, you offer a strong counter to the “great business climate” boosterism that flows freely from Pierre.

    I agree that we have to invest money to make money. But notice that in this case, South Dakota isn’t investing money. It’s using federal welfare money to subsidize its desires. How much money should the state itself invest in subsidizing air travel?

  30. Devil’s advocate:
    The one positive about ADI rolling into town is that the base fares for these flights are much more affordable than the fares offered by Great Lakes while they were flying into these communities, thus fulfilling the need for affordable subsidized air travel as opposed to just subsidized air travel that was offered by Great Lakes before. This makes the subsidy more class neutral. Great Lakes priced themselves out of the market and was unreliable, which has led to communities like Huron losing their air service due to the subsidy increasing to over $1,000 per ticket.

    That said, federal regulations limit the subsidy to less than $250/ticket if a community is less than 210 miles from a large or medium hub. Watertown was 204 miles from city hall, and so they had to convince that the starting point would be closer to the airport which was ~211 miles (Lake Kampeska is considered part of Watertown, so the center of town is more to the west) in order to get subsidies over $250/ticket.

  31. Paul brings up the question of why South Dakota printers don’t compete for the ballot printing business. We have printers all over the state. That said, Larry the Shiller is probably going to go into the ballot printing business with a yuuuuge grant from Dennis Daugaard and a multi-million dollar state contract to boot.

  32. Don Coyote

    I guess the 1 1/2 hour drive from Watertown to Sioux Falls is just too much of an effort for the denizens of the Rising Star to catch a plane. Meanwhile Sioux Falls fliers think nothing about having to drive 3 hours to the Big O to get cheap flights on Southwest Airlines. Sheesh.

  33. An eager reader shares a quote from Hubert Humphrey, offered at a Beadle County Democrats Dinner back in the 70’s: “When it helps me, it is a vitally needed federal expenditure. When it helps you, it is creeping European socialism.”

  34. Don, you nailed it. When living in, spsst, east river, we often as in almost always drove of OMA to fly. Now living west river we usually fly from Gillette, Casper, or Billings, or just say f’it and drive to DEN.

  35. caheidelberger, you asked the question, “How much money should the state itself invest in subsidizing air travel?” That needs to be addressed by elected officials and not some guy posting to a blog. If you get elected, how much effort are you willing to spend on transportation? Do you feel it should come from the federal, state or a combination of both? Where do you see the future of transportation in the state?

  36. We don’t need to subsidize air travel to cities which aren’t large enough for airlines to justify the risk of maintaining regular flights. Period.

    Those who wish to fly from Watertown can pay more for the privilege, or choose to drive to Sioux Falls to save a few bucks. I myself have often driven to Omaha or Minneapolis due to the cost savings but I don’t expect the federal government to swoop in and subsidize airfare in Sioux Falls to make it less expensive.

    If someone doesn’t like the price of a product or service they simply don’t have to buy it. Airfare is not like food, shelter, or healthcare. It is not a “need”… it is very much a “want”.

  37. We are in full support of ADI coming to Pierre and the added 1/2 hour continued flight to Watertown. Both communities suffered greatly under Great Lakes. Unfortunately, that airline’s demise can be attributed to changes in federal regulations which increased the amount of training needed and the amount of rest time pilots needed between flights. Both good ideas in theory, but coupled with the national pilot shortage, it was just bad timing and crushing to small communities like Watertown and Pierre.

    Now, thousands of people each year who were forced to drive from Pierre to Rapid City or Sioux Falls to catch flights are now able to save time and money flying in and out of Pierre. Not to mention the safety of not having to drive in bad weather conditions in the winter. State employees who previously spent an extra day traveling (including time spent away from offices, an additional overnight stay, extra meals, etc, parking expenses) can now be more efficient with taxpayer dollars with the ability to fly reliably in and out of Pierre. Government contractors who fly into South Dakota on the state’s dime will also be more efficient.

    Certainly people can complain EAS is a waste of taxpayer dollars. There’s enough waste to go around – my favorite are the millions of taxpayer money thrown at ridiculous government grants like the $3 million used to study video games or the $2.6 million the US spent to teach Chinese prostitutes to drink responsibly. EAS actually does make a difference to smaller communities.

  38. [I]”State employees who previously spent an extra day traveling (including time spent away from offices, an additional overnight stay, extra meals, etc, parking expenses) can now be more efficient with taxpayer dollars with the ability to fly reliably in and out of Pierre.”[/I]

    If each ticket is subsidized by almost $1,000 it would take a lot more than one extra travel day to consider this “efficient”. Let’s also admit that the majority of the subsidy isn’t offsetting state travel costs. It is likely subsidizing private businesses and individuals going on vacation.

    It is difficult to justify a waste when your argument essentially boils down to “well there is already a lot of waste in government, so what is a few million more”. This is a prime example of the type of waste that people are perfectly ok with provided it offers a benefit to them. I’d put money on the fact many of those on these flights are more than willing to chastise those using EBT cards to feed their families or relying up on rental assistance too. That’s just how it seems to work.

  39. For clarification, the demise of Great Lakes was hardly due to a pilot shortage. Among aviation circles, Great Lakes has been the equivalent to an armpit stain for the past 15 years. The problem with Great Lakes was poor pay and work conditions. When you pay your starting pilot less than $20,000 when many are carrying $100,000+ in debt, no wonder you can’t fill pilot seats.The reason they succeeded before was because there was a pipeline of pilots that had few other choices to build flight time to get hired elsewhere, so they kept it a revolving door of warm bodies. The CEO simply cried fowl when his pipeline dried up due to regulation. In a bid to keep their gig alive, they ripped 10 seats out of a majority of their planes in order to fly under different rules, allowing them to operate under their old rules. Unfortunately, other players have come on line, which have been soaking up these new pilots with better pay and working conditions.
    In addition to that, flying for Great Lakes was stressful due to a majority of their planes lacking GPS and autopilot, leaving little technology to help back up these unexperienced pilots (Contrary to nearly all other regional and mainline airlines).
    Great Lakes has been a liability for years, it has been a surprise that Great Lakes has had an accident given their fly by the seat of their pants nature that is finally becoming unsustainable.

    Now, onto ADI. Aside from the well publicized run-ins with the FAA which held up their ability to get an EAS contract, rumors among the aviation community report challenges with even getting on-time paychecks. Given that they are in cahoots with Great Lakes for their flight marketing, I suspect that once the initial allure wears off, it will end up being more of the same inconsistency for Watertown and Pierre. At least they are priced more affordably, allowing for a little more tolerance.

  40. Roger Cornelius

    For how many years will these subsidizes continue? One year, five years, ten years?
    That could add up to a chunk of change over the years.

  41. What a waste of money. South Dakotans need to realize that when you choose to live in the middle of nowhere you should put up with the long distances to travel.
    Subsidizing these dying airports is foolish. Total waste of money. Just drive your car to Sioux Falls or Minneapolis and if you can’t afford the price of gas you probably shouldn’t be traveling.

  42. Paul, why can’t “some guy on a blog” address that question? Sure, most discussants here won’t vote on the final bill (even when I’m in the State Senate, I won’t be voting on federal funding for Essential Air Service—that’ll be Congresswoman Hawks’s job), but isn’t democracy all about voters having these conversations, forming their opinions, and then informing their elected officials?

    On principle, the government has a vital role in providing transportation infrastructure that serves all citizens. In South Dakota, more of that money comes from the feds that from the state, because we like other states to pay our way so we can keep our state taxes low and help Republicans win elections.

    We might frame the priorities question this way: Ask 1,000 South Dakotans whether they’d rather spend $11,000 to help Pat Powers see the Go-Gos in concert in Denver or to fill potholes on their local Main Street. Which investment gives more South Dakotans more bang for their buck?

  43. MD, recall that Captain Sully Sullenberger doesn’t buy Mike Rounds’s industry propaganda about pilot training rules, either. Just more deregulatory profit-stretching putting the public at risk. If small airlines can’t afford to hire properly trained pilots, they shouldn’t be flying.

    On the question of state employee efficiency, when the state is pushing K-12 schools to adopt distance learning, why is anyone in Pierre burning jet fuel to work instead of firing up Skype?

  44. Darin Larson

    Cory, you and your friends can’t go watch your son’s basketball game in person on skype. Nor will you build up your pilot skills on the state’s dime if you are grounded.

  45. Roger, Aerodynamics Inc gets this subsidy for two years. I assume EAS re-evaluates at that point, considering actual usage and costs.

    I like affordable mass transit. There is an argument that flying is more fuel efficient than driving, although the article I’m looking at bases its calculations on large national and regional air carriers and may not factor in smaller flights like the Watertown–Pierre jaunt. The fuel/environmental impact advantage may disappear when we aren’t talking about big jets packed nose to tail with passengers.

    I wonder how much it would cost to offer a comparable Essential Rail Service, a subsidized passenger train that would carry people between the coal and grain cards on the DME and BNSF lines across the state and out to Denver, Minneapolis, and Omaha?

  46. What I don’t understand is the difference in air service when one compares South Dakota to North Dakota. The state does have the oil industry that likely has something to do with the number of cities served by a few airlines. But how can six cities have daily service by United Airlines. Fargo is served by United but I’m not including that for obvious reasons. Williston, Minot, Bismarck, Jamestown, Devils Lake and Dickinson are all served by United, according to the map on its website. I can understand Williston (oil) and perhaps Bismarck and Minot but Dickinson, Jamestown and Devils Lake? Really?

    Next is Delta which serves Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck (obvious) but it also serves Williston (oil), Minot and Dickinson.

    Are the cities of Dickinson, Jamestown and Devils Lake receiving subsidies? Maybe Minot? The air service to these cities could boil down to logistics. Williston and Minot are quite long drives to Bismarck, Fargo or Grand Forks. With Rapid City as the exception, the “larger” cities in SD are in close proximity to Aberdeen or Sioux Falls. But it still just amazes me how our neighbors to the north can have air service to more cities than SD. Probably lots of different factors but I’m curious what those are.

  47. Jamestown and Devils Lake receive subsidy in ND which was obtained by SkyWest to operate flights as United, and has really revitalized their air travel. Dickinson and Williston previously had subsidy but as of late, they have been forgoing subsidy, although it wouldn’t surprise me if traffic in Dickinson’s traffic subsided to the point of subsidy.
    Minot, Grand Forks, Bismarck, and Fargo can support service without subsidy as their markets are big enough. Grand Forks and Minot have a lot of cross border traffic, especially Grand Forks, which would otherwise not have Allegiant service.

    As recently as 5-7 years ago, there were four airports operating in SD without subsidy, Aberdeen, Pierre, Rapid City, and Sioux Falls with Huron and Watertown being the two EAS locations, now that has grown to 4 EAS locations and 2 non-subsidy as passenger numbers have changed.

    The Watertown docket folder for the EAS proposals is located at:
    https://www.regulations.gov/docketBrowser?rpp=25&so=DESC&sb=postedDate&po=0&dct=N%2BFR%2BPR%2BO&D=DOT-OST-2001-10644
    I find it interesting that a more established airline bid $1 million less, yet unproved ADI still received the contract. A lot of really interesting commentary there as well.

  48. Thanks, MD! According to the June 2 Order Selecting Carrier, Aerodynamics Inc expects to carry 23,095 passengers from Pierre each year in 1,228 departures. That’s 18.8 people per flight on a 50-seat jet, or 38% capacity.

    I’m going to punch up more numbers as a separate post….