It's called "Essential Air Service" and it was intended to prop up rural airports until they could make it on their own. But thirty years and a billion dollars after these federal subsidies to airlines started -- there are real questions about their benefits.
"The Essential Air Service is neither essential, nor is it much of a service," Evan Sparks of the American Enterprise Institute tells CBS Investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson.
The planes are flying to more than a hundred small towns -- many you've probably never heard of. And the flights are more empty than full. It's all at government expense: more than a hundred million dollars a year.
For the full story tune into our Follow the Money story tonight on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.
By Sharyl Attkisson