Wednesday, September 04, 2013

As airplane for beaming TV to Cuba sits, we still pay for it

CARTERSVILLE, Ga. — At an airfield in rural Georgia, the U.S. government pays a contractor $6,600 a month for a plane that doesn't fly.

The plane is a 1960s turboprop with an odd array of antennas on its back end and the name of a Cuban national hero painted on its tail. It can fly, but it doesn't. Government orders.

“The contract now is a ‘non-fly’  ” agreement, said Steve Christopher of Phoenix Air Group, standing next to the plane. “That’s what the customer wants.”

The airplane is called “Aero Marti,” and it is stuck in a kind of federal limbo. After two years of haphazard spending cuts in Washington, it has too little funding to function but too much to die.

The plane was outfitted to fly over the ocean and broadcast an American-run TV station into Cuba. The effort was part of the long-running U.S. campaign to combat communism in Cuba by providing information to the Cuban people uncensored by their communist government.

But Cuban officials jammed the signal almost immediately, and surveys showed that less than 1 percent of Cubans watched. Still, when Congress started making budget cuts, lawmakers refused to kill the plane. (The Columbus Dispatch)

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