We know we should be rejoicing at the news that Sun Air International will provide passenger service out of the Macon Regional Airport, but we just can’t. The U.S. Department of Transportation announced that Sun Air would receive $3.9 million over the two- year term of its contract to fly between Macon and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. There are several ways to look at the gift from the federal government. Some could easily point to the federal largesse as an example of wasted spending. Why? Macon’s airport has proven that it is not -- after millions of federal dollars on other flight subsidies and facility upgrades -- a passenger terminal. The market isn’t there. Sun Air feels by altering its flight schedule it can attract more passengers. But those passengers will cost the government, by its own estimates, $979 per passenger. You can fly from Atlanta to San Francisco, business class, without advance purchase, for $642 about $3 a mile. However, the 79-mile jump from Macon to Atlanta will cost $12 a mile.
This is no knock on Sun Air. We are sure it’s a fine company, but from a high of 20,000 passengers a year, the flow in 2011 dropped almost 90 percent, a paltry average of three passengers a day. Mayor Robert Reichert supports the new effort, but he has to know this is a waste of money, but who is he to say that? He’s the mayor. If Sun Air wants to give it a go that should be up to it. However, the Department of Transportation should know better.
Passenger service reopens the wound left by the defeat of the T-SPLOST that would have helped the airport realize the dream of it being -- not a passenger facility -- but a maintenance and cargo hub. It also points to the flawed strategy of not putting the runway extension on the SPLOST that did pass last year. But hope springs eternal. The mayor’s office dreams Sun Air might eventually provide service to other southeastern airports.
We hate to be pessimistic, but if people south of Macon don’t support it, the service is doomed to waste money. People in Macon, particularly the northern part of the county, can get to Atlanta by car almost faster than by plane when factoring in commute times.
-- The Editorial Board