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’ ” contract, said Steve Christopher of Phoenix Air Group, standing next to the plane. “That’s what the customer wants.”
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 government.
But then they allowed across-the-board “sequestration” cuts. And there was no more money for the fuel and pilots. So the plane sits in storage at taxpayer expense — a monument to the limits of American austerity. In this case, a push to eliminate long-troubled programs collided with old Washington forces: government inertia, intense lobbying and congressional pride.
The result was a stalemate. And a plane left with just enough money to do nothing.
“It’s hard to state how ridiculous it is” that the plane is still costing taxpayers money, said Philip Peters, an official in two Republican administrations and now the president of the Alexandria-based Cuba Research Center.
Peters said the plane’s broadcasts had “no audience. They’ve been effectively jammed, ever since their inception. And rather than spend the money on something that benefits the public . . . it’s turned into a test of manhood on Capitol Hill.”
This plane is a last remnant of a long, weird experiment in television broadcasting across the Straits of Florida. The plan was to broadcast uncensored news and commentary on a station named for Cuban patriot José Martí.