- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2001

The U.S. airline industry, already in trouble before the events of Sept. 11, is now confronting an even greater downturn in business and increased operating costs. Some 86,000 airline workers have been laid off as of yesterday, with more likely to come. Some airlines, such as USAirways, might not survive. Others will have to consolidate their operations and become more efficient. A reorganization is clearly in order. But Congress and the Bush administration should not interfere.
A plan has been floated to pump as much as $8 billion into the sagging industry, apparently to maintain the pre-attack status quo. Some $5 billion would be infused immediately, while another $3 billion would be used to improve airport security a cost the airlines say they simply cannot bear without help. "We have to act as quickly as possible," an administration official told The Washington Post. "There is no question the carriers need a cash infusion right now."
But there is indeed a question about that. Certainly, we could all use "a cash infusion right now." What has "need" go to do with it? The important point is whether it's appropriate or wise for the federal government, courtesy of the American taxpayer, to prop up an economically inefficient private business so that it can maintain its inefficient ways of doing business.
America's airlines are certainly an important component of the national transportation infrastructure, and their success or failure will indeed affect other corners of the economy. But this is equally true of many other large sectors of the economy. Should the government also bail out Dell or Microsoft if either computer giant became so badly managed as to risk bankruptcy? Or would the market do its necessary work and compel a reorganization or make room for a better alternative?
Regarding the airlines, pre-Sept. 11 it was widely acknowledged that changes were coming driven by the uneconomic performance or poor management (or just bad luck) afflicting several of the carriers, much of it a consequence of the general downturn in the economy. The attack on Sept. 11 certainly exacerbated the airlines' problems but it did not create them. A massive federal subsidy will, therefore, neither solve the problem nor do anything more than delay the inevitable day of reckoning. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said the airline industry "has got to be made whole." But that is rhetoric not reason.
Last week's attack certainly shocked us, but it shouldn't cause us to lose our wits.

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