Air Transport World

No guts, no glory. (world aviation reform)

Governments and airlines around the world are "engaging in dialogue" designed to "find a vehicle" for change. What does this gibberish mean? That no one, above all, the U.S., has a clue as to how or when to dump the bilateral system of negotiating routes, rates and capacity.

in a perfect world, the 164 nations belonging to ICAO would vote overwhelmingly to delete language from the Chicago Convention relating to airspace sovereignty, pooling, cabotage, scheduled and nonscheduled air service or anything else connected to commercial-airline issues.

They would amend the Convention to preclude intervention by governments bilaterally or multilaterally in route, rate or capacity matters and subject airlines to antitrust prosecution. After performing that revolutionary act, delegates would return home and allow ICAO to get back to its business: Setting worldwide standards for technical and safety matters in aviation.

But the aviation world is not perfect. ICAO'S members will do no such thing. Most countries still oppose airline free trade, as they did in 1944, when 54 nations attending the Chicago Conference doomed international airline matters to the fate of bilateralism. As a result, the minority of countries that wish to alter the Bermuda 1-based bilateral system continue to grope for ways to extricate themselves from it.

Once, the U.S. was regarded as the country that would kick, drag or push other nations into a more sensible approach to airline operations. With a 38.8% world traffic share, it ought to be. The Carter administration tried new ideas, after its early faux pas in signing the capacity-restricting Bermuda 11 agreement. It incurred the world's and Congress's wrath along the way but didn't let that stop progress. The Reagan administration signed a fare-flexibility agreement with the European Civil Aviation Conference that was sold as a brave step forward but really was designed to extricate the U.S. from political heat created by the Carter CAB'S IATA show cause order. It accomplished so little that the U.S. recently let it expire.

Now the U.S. has a President who dislikes alienating allies as well as getting ahead of the pack. Under George Bush, the U.S. has agreed to capacity limits in still more bilaterals and turned down offers of open skies from several small countries. This makes people question the U. …

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