Air Transport World

Getting their money's worth. (includes related article on Regional Airline Association's meeting)

RAA members were kept busy with an agenda-filled three days; for once, airframers took a back seat.

This year's Regional Airline Association's (RAA) spring meeting will be not known for its headline making news but rather, for its general edifying content. In other words, the members got more than a couple of days off. They got their dues' worth.

For three days in May, RAA meeting attendees heard numerous speeches and participated in many programs, of which some were self-serving. But most were informative and useful. There were two leading figures from the U.S. government giving opposing views on airline competition, along with a presidents' panel discussing future trends of the regional-airline industry.

There was variety. Topics ranged from a talk on criminal penalties for falsification of records to an eye-opening presentation on revenue opportunities in cargo-mail service. Members learned about projected hiring for U.S. regional airlines and got an overview of the European regional-airline situation. Some technically minded members attended the day-long operations and maintenance forum that dealt with established and pending regulatory requirements of DOT and FAA. There was even a discussion on a topic that is usually anathema to most airlines-preparing one's company for an accident.

Breakfast speaker Rep. James Oberstar D-Minn.), chairman of the U.S. House Aviation subcommittee, gave essentially a commercial for his bill, the Airline Competition Enhancement Act, which is designed to open up slots and gates to smaller and/or new-entrant airlines, allow for increased foreign ownership of U.S. airlines, with restrictions, and increase fairness in CRSs.

"This is likely to be our last chance to pass legislation to stop the decline in competition," Oberstar said. His message also took on a decidedly populist tone, suggesting that some prime slots will be taken from the regional carriers and given to other operators for international flights if something isn't done. Nevertheless, oberstar's call for more government involvement in their businesses didn't get high marks with those assembled.

Oberstar's bill, in part, allows an airline to transfer its slots or certificates to another only after other carriers interested in acquiring them have an opportunity to bid for them. The bill allows no more than 5% of the airport gates to be transferred during a one-year period. The congressman expected the bill to pass the House before the July recess.

At lunch, DOT Secretary Samuel Skinner gave the counterpoint to oberstar's push for increased government involvement in the industry. Just because you have fewer airlines doesn't mean you will have less service," Skinner pointed out.

Oberstar said competition will be virtually eliminated with only a handful of carriers.

Controlling one's costs is the key to all airline's success, something regionals and commuters do better," Skinner said, also playing to the crowd. The Secretary's blend of conservative ideology and praise for the regionals' watchful eve on the bottom line seemed to go down better with the lunch crowd. …

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