- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 28, 2002

House Republicans and Democrats reached an agreement yesterday on key provisions of a rescue plan for airlines that would make the government pay most of their security and liability costs while reducing the hassle for passengers.
"I think I've reached a bipartisan agreement with both sides of the aisle," said Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee. He plans to submit the legislation for approval by the full committee on Wednesday.
Under provisions of the bill:
Airlines would be required to pay the first $100 million in damage claims for acts of war or terrorism. The federal government would pay additional costs.
Passengers no longer would be required to undergo second searches at airport gates.
A profiling system would be introduced to identify terrorist suspects before they check in at airports, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for random searches of passengers.
The government would reimburse airlines for security costs created by the war against terrorism, such as reinforced cockpit doors and airport bomb-detection machines.
If the United States goes to war with Iraq, airlines could apply for federal loan guarantees to help them raise the money they need to continue operating.
The provisions that shift airline costs to the government and reduce inconveniences for passengers could save the industry about $4 billion a year, Mr. Mica said.
"We don't want to compromise security, but we do think there are some things that aren't producing that much security but are producing costs and hassle," Mr. Mica said. "That means less people fly."
More details of the legislation will be announced next week, he said.
Other provisions are still being contested by Democrats.
Rep. James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat, is seeking compensation for laid-off airline workers. He also has suggested reducing the federal fuel tax for airlines if armed conflict with Iraq interrupts oil supplies and raises fuel prices.
"We haven't agreed on everything," said Jim Berard, spokesman for Mr. Oberstar. "We've got some issues we're still working on."
Airline executives testified before the aviation subcommittee this week that costs created by the September 11 attacks and war against terrorism are driving them toward bankruptcy. The Air Transport Association, which represents the major airlines, estimates the U.S. airline industry could lose a record $8 billion this year.
Yesterday, Delta Air Lines raised its projected third-quarter loss to $350 million, nearly twice its earlier prediction. The nation's third-largest airline also said it would lay off 1,500 more flight attendants.
Other major airlines are in similar financial conditions. US Airways is in bankruptcy protection, and United Airlines has said it might need to file for bankruptcy this fall. American Airlines and Continental Airlines have laid off workers and reduced flights to stem losses.
"Our goal is to have the Congress enact legislation that will ensure the viability of the air-transportation system by having the government take over airline security," said Michael Wascom, vice president of the Air Transport Association.
The Bush administration is withholding comment on the House bill.
"We have not had an opportunity to see the legislation to review it," said Claire Buchan, White House spokeswoman.


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