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Airline Competition, Flight Delays Continue to Worry Congress.

Over the past few weeks, Congress held several hearings on the pending airline mergers and flight delays that continue to plague the industry.

Many of the hearings and subsequent industry comments followed the Senate Commerce Committee's recent approval of two new pieces of legislation related to airline operations.

The two pending aviation bills that were modified and approved were S. 319, the "Airline Customer Service Act" and S. 415, the "Aviation Competition Restoration Act."

The purpose of S. 415, introduced by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ranking Member Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), is to break-up "dominated hub airports" and stop further consolidation in the airline industry if the merger "would result in unreasonable industry concentration, excessive market domination, monopoly powers, or ... allow at least one air carrier unreasonably to increase prices, reduce services, or exclude competition in air transportation at any hub airport."

If passed, the Aviation Competition Restoration Act would also give the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) additional authority to review proposed airline mergers. Although the bill was approved by the committee with a 12-10 vote, the sponsors agreed to work with those opposed to the bill to ensure that their concerns are addressed before taking the bill to the Senate floor.

Despite the fact that the Justice Department signaled its support for the proposed merger between American Airlines and bankrupt Trans World Airlines (TWA), airline consolidation continues to be a hot issue in Congress with several additional pieces of legislation having been introduced.

The Airline Merger Moratorium Act (S. 578), introduced by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), and the High-Density Airport Competition Act of 2001 (S. 520), introduced by Senators Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), both address the continued desire of many in Congress to block pending and future mergers in the airline industry.

In an effort to protect the interests of the increasingly angry flying public, S. 319 was unanimously approved by the committee. The measure would require airlines to include their respective customer service commitments in their contract of carriage.

The customer service agreements were voluntarily adopted by the airlines in 1999. Although these agreements have led to some improvements in the level of service, according to the USDOT Inspector General, many senators believe that the airlines need to be held more accountable by adding these "passenger rights" into their contract of carriage.

Senate Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) also announced plans to introduce legislation dealing with environmental streamlining for airport expansion, instituting congestion pricing at peak hours, and changing the definition of on-time departures.

The House of Representatives has been just as active in the review process including a recent hearing in the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection. Those members who support the mergers believe they will help ensure that service continues to many rural areas that may not be served if the mergers are blocked.

Others, like Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), believe that "the failure of airlines to meet even the most basic commitments to consumer service calls into question whether or not they should be focusing all their efforts on expanding their market share."

The debate on airline mergers, passenger service, and the updating and expansion of airport infrastructure will likely come before the full House and Senate in the coming months.
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Title Annotation:aviation bills are considered
Author:Kocher, Daniel
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 2, 2001
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