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Judiciary Committee Approves Airline Delay Reduction Act.

In an effort to reduce the growing number of flight delays and aviation gridlock, the House Judiciary Committee (James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., chair) recently approved a measure granting airlines the ability to discuss coordinating scheduling arrangements.

H.R. 1407, the Airline Delay Reduction Act, authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to grant limited antitrust immunity to airlines to meet to discuss their schedules and coordinate scheduling of flights, in order to reduce delays in departures and arrivals of aircraft at airports and ease congestion at peak operating hours. The secretary would approve requests for cooperative arrangements if they lead to a substantial reduction in travel delays that cannot be achieved by any other immediately available means.

The bill would mandate that the discussions be public, and would prohibit airlines from discussing or entering into agreements on prices, in-flight services, and city-to-city routes. It would also require that the secretary or his representative attend and monitor any of these discussions.

Although approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, chair) in May, the bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee because of its jurisdiction on antitrust matters. The committee made several changes to the bill, most notably amendments offered by Sensenbrenner and Ranking Member John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich).

Sensenbrenner's amendment would require the U.S. Attorney General to participate in any meeting among airline representatives to discuss flight schedules, along with the Secretary of Transportation; and calls for the unanimous consent of all participating airlines to any scheduling changes. Conyers' amendment strips the authority of the U.S. Department of Transportation to oversee scheduling committees, leaving the U.S. Attorney General and the U.S. Justice Department as the enforcer of the bill's provisions.

H.R. 1407 was approved by voice vote in both the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Judiciary Committee, despite a variety of reservations expressed regarding the antitrust exemption.

A similar bill to was introduced in the Senate in April. S. 633, the Aviation Delay Prevention ACt, was scheduled to be marked on May 24, but was postponed due to the shift of power in the Senate.

In April, Airports Council International-North American President David Plavin voiced concerns about the antitrust immunity and its effect on small communities.

"We need to carefully consider the needs of small communities and the potential negative impact that scheduling committees and other demand management tools could have on new entrants and service to small communities. Many of our members have expressed fear that if demand is restricted at congested airports, service to smaller communities on smaller aircraft will be the first to be eliminated," Plavin said.

The Airline Delay Reduction Act is an attempt to provide short-term relief for airport congestion problems. The need for long-term aviation improvements is apparent to many lawmakers, as American airports are experiencing unprecedented flight delays and crowding.

In April, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its airport capacity benchmarks, showing that many airports operate at or beyond capacity and that delays are likely to increase over the next 10 years. Between 1995 and 1999, the FAA also reported a 58 percent increase in flight delays, and an additional 20 percent increase in delays in 2000.
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Author:Yu, Hannah
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 2, 2001
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