first majestic silver

Whither Nofly

July 18, 1998

Since we first outlined our scheme for profitable airline operation (NoFly Airlines) there have been so many letters demanding more information that we are going to use this opportunity to answer both of them.

NoFly, you may recall, was an attempt to strip airlines of the major expenses that make profitable operation so difficult. The sale of tickets is, of course, income-producing, but most other aspects of airline operation are not. Airplanes, for example, are just unbelievably expensive to buy, and their repair and maintenance is a continuing major expense. NoFly's innovative approach is to eliminate these expensive items while continuing ticket sales. In other words, sell tickets, but don't get caught up in the income-gobbling expenses of owning and operating airplanes. This plan is daring, and to fully succeed requires the cooperation of government, of course. (Such plans usually do.) Government plays its role by declaring NoFly tickets a "legal transit" for flights on other airlines. Well, this scheme has been put into use--with a remarkable new twist!

The government of the newly-emerged (from where?) African nation of Bombasto read about NoFly and decided that its national airline would pattern itself upon that laudable model. (Nations that haven't yet discovered the wheel must have a national airline) Even for the technologically innocent folk of Bombasto, it was no great chore to set up a ticket office for Air Bombasto in both of the country's hotels, and at the airport, of course, at the capital, Bombasto City. Until that time, the only airlines serving the country had been Schnitzelhansa, Brutish Airways, and El Ill. They took turns flying into and out of Bombasto City on Tuesdays and Fridays. Of course, with its mild climate and gorgeous natural beauty, (not to mention the decline of head hunting) Bombasto has become a popular tourist spot, so the airlines found it desirable to operate these flights. They balked, however, at having to fly people with tickets from Air Bombasto. "What good are these things?" they asked, with respect to the colorful Air Bombasto ducats. "Why should we provide transportation for people who bought these tickets from an airline without planes?" Well, the answer was simple enough: do it or pull out of Bombasto altogether. It wasn't as bad as it sounded, of course. The airlines were given to understand that the "legal transit" status of the Air Bombasto tickets meant that the airlines that accepted them could turn around and sell them, either for one of their own flights, or for a competitor's. In fact, Air Bombasto would operate a "discount window" to sell their tickets directly to El Ill, Schnitzelhansa, or Brutish Airways. If the airlines could then re-sell these tickets to their customers at a higher price, it was OK by the Bombasto authorities. It was, in fact, only a matter of time before the three plane-equipped airlines stopped printing their own tickets, and used those of Air Bombasto exclusively. This was regarded as a giant step forward in the developing country's free enterprise system.

At this juncture something quite extraordinary happened. The authorities decided that the tickets of Air Bombasto should not be sold, but loaned. Since most of them were purchased by tour operators in large blocs of fifty or one hundred tickets, the plan was devised to provide these tickets at virtually no cost at all; but with the proviso that in one year--or sooner--, they had to be returned with 10 percent interest. In other words, if Fleshpot Tours obtained, during the last year, 200 tickets from Air Bombasto, it had to return to the airline 220 tickets this year, of which the original 200 were destroyed, while the 20 could be discounted to the flying airlines. The result was that tickets on Air Bombasto became scarce, as well as useful, and thus highly desirable.

You must realize that this country was quite primitive. It had, for example, no sort of uniform money system. Natives bartered among themselves, and trade with the outside world was virtually nil. Oh, the government tried to get the people to use some chits it had printed; but these weren't taken seriously, since everyone knew the government itself was not to be taken seriously, save for its skill with billy-club and bayonet. So it was hard to buy Air Bombasto tickets, when the available currency was less well regarded than the tickets themselves. Air Bombasto, however, was managed by a graduate of the London School of Economics, with several literate assistants. It was this worthy gentleman who approached the nation's rulers with the proposition that has heads spinning in financial capitals around the world. His idea, simply stated, was that Air Bombasto tickets should become the country's medium of exchange. Because they were only loaned into use, rather than sold, there were never enough of them. In other words, all of the existing tickets were to be returned, plus interest, in the form of tickets as yet uncreated. Since the counterfeiting of these tickets was a serious offense, (punishable by being smeared with honey and tied over an anthill), there was only the one official source. It printed just enough tickets to keep them scarce. Already there was a sort of unofficial, or black, market in Air Bombasto tickets, since they were the only desirable assets in common use in the country. Air Bombasto's manager explained to the officials that their only reason for creating the airline in the first place was for the revenue. There could hardly be another reason, after all, for selling tickets on an airline without planes or pilots. By using the tickets for currency, the profits would be greatly increased, for now the sale of anything would involve Air Bombasto tickets.

Of course, there would have to be a change in the design of the tickets. And the three plane-equipped airlines could return to using their own tickets, provided, of course, that anyone buying them did so in Bombasto Notes, as the scrip would now be called. The notes would continue to be issued only by Air Bombasto, but now through a subsidiary called the Federal Flight System. The "notes" would be denominated in "flights," and would be provided the government in unlimited quantities, with no repayment expected, except interest, of course. The government could get out of the chit-printing business entirely. The officials of Bombasto quickly saw the reasonableness and logic of this proposal, as well as the Mercedes convertibles offered as good-will gifts by Air Bombasto management.

This explains what some of you have written us about; namely, the peculiar expressions of the Bombasto people. A rich man, in Bombasto, is said to "have a ticket to Lapland," (Lapland being thought of as about as far as you can go from Bombasto). A person who gets a raise is said to be "flying high," and if one goes bankrupt, it is referred to as a "crash." If the crash occurs because of the crashee's own ineptitude, it is termed "pilot error." And, of course, the national currency--the flight--is decorated with airplane images. The tricky national anthem "Propeller Shaft of Progress" is heard often.

The development of the flight currency has so enriched Bombasto that it has been able to establish a national airline with actual airplanes and pilots. Other airlines fly there as well, but landing fees and fuel are paid for in flights, so the competition is not, despite appearances, competitive at all.

The officials of the government enjoy a gratifyingly high standard of living, which is "trickling down" to the man on the street. The young man responsible for the idea of the flight currency is now chief executive officer of the Federal Flight System, and is seen often in the streets of the capital when he is not at his apartment in New York, or beachfront villa at Cannes. He always flies Air Bombasto, first class! There are occasional carping criticisms of the mounting national debt, but the man on the street, who has learned to read and write in government schools, is unconcerned. "We owe it to ourselves," is a typical response. Unofficially, the debt is dismissed with "Hey, it will just fly away, right?" Right!

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