Flying the Empty Skies

A Gulfstream V corporate jet carrying Nike employees flies over Hillsboro airport as it burns off fuel in Hillsboro, Ore., Monday, Nov. 21, 2005. The plane developed landing gear problems shortly after leaving suburban Hillsboro airport on Monday and it may be forced to make an emergency landing, officials said.
CBS News Investigative Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson wrote this story for

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

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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.