United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby’s Face The Nation interview on Sunday provides a treasure trove of topics for discussion, almost all of which feature a common thread: the use of federal government coercion to bring about public policy change. That includes new subsidies for jet fuel and taxpayer support for airport construction projects.
United Airlines Wants Taxpayers To Cover Jet Fuel, Airport Improvements
Kirby was asked by host Margaret Brennan about the pair of new infrastructure bills under consideration by Congress. The first bill is a $1.2 trillion plan that features more traditional infrastructure projects like roads, highways, bridges…and airports.
Unsurprisingly, Kirby views that as necessary and believes creating modern airports and an air traffic control system will be beneficial not only for customers, but for society as a whole.
BRENNAN: I want to ask you about some of what’s being debated here on Capitol Hill. There are two huge bills, one of them, this $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, it’s got funding in airports included into the package. How necessary is it and how would you want that money to be programmed? What do you need it for?
KIRBY: Yeah, so I am very supportive of the entire infrastructure package, as is most of the business community. It’s a great opportunity to invest in America coming out of- out of this crisis. At airports, you know, you can fly around and see the airports. It’s been a long time since we’ve had real investment in the airports. Our air traffic control system, you know, still flies in a lot of ways the same way we flew 50, 60 years ago. And there’s real opportunities to make it more efficient and it’d be good for the economy, good for customers, really kind of good for society as a whole.
The second infrastructure bill is more controversial, broadening the definition of the term to address climate change and social inequality and offering new family and medical leave programs, free universal preschool, and free community college for all students. It has a price tag of $3.5 trillion (but includes the $1.2 trillion in traditional infrastructure).
Kirby is also for this, to the extent that jet fuel is subsidized. He notes “we do need government support, really to fund the investment,” and notes that the goal will be to export technology around the world.
BRENNAN: So, you’re for the 1.2. When it comes to the $3.5 trillion spending bill, there’s also some climate change related provisions tucked into it. We talked about that with Sen. Sanders. But for you in private business, is it just so expensive to make some of these changes on your own that you need American taxpayers to provide tax credits and to provide incentives for private businesses to go green?
KIRBY: Well, particularly for the climate change initiatives, we do need government support, really to fund the investment. If you look at solar and wind, 20 years ago, they couldn’t compete with coal or natural gas, and today it’s cheaper. That’s because the government provided credits to give certainty to invest in the industry, and that’s what we need for things like sustainable aviation fuel. This really is an opportunity in America to drive investment, drive the next generation of great jobs that can be green, but also great jobs, great technology that we can export around the world.
Recently, United announced a broadening of its Eco-Skies program, with a push toward the greater use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
While U.S. airlines asking for government assistance is a familiar tale, Kirby wants U.S. taxpayers to bankroll its push toward becoming a greener airline by subsidizing sustainable aviation fuel. Kirby’s plea for government assistance recognizes that such taxpayer support may be the only way such a program is economically viable…for United.