Air Transport World

U.S. international aviation policymakers adopt more pragmatic approach.

Some countries object when the United States pursues too liberal an international aviation policy. Others don't like a too-protective position. Everyone gets confused when the U.S. seems to be going in both of those directions simultaneously, particularly when one country receives significant U.S. rights ad another is given crumbs.

Like it or not, thought, the current U.S. posture is to treat each negotiating partner as an individual case. It is at the same time pushing to expand rights and loosen fare-setting with some countries, while trying to retract rights handed out during the Carter administration in others.

U.S. government officials call this stance "pragmatic." Others call it mercantilist. Simply put, negotiations are no longer ideological, and to hell with the consequences. Despite the Reagan administration's rhetorical espousal of free trade, it has become more protective of U.S. business abroad generally. That is equally true for U.S. airlines.

The U.S. government brought the wrath of other nations and non-U.S. and U.S. airlines upon itself during 1977-1980. Most foreign governments didn't want their airlines subjected to more competition, although countries such as West Germany and the Netherlands certainly took advantage of U.S. magnanimity. Many U.S. international lines didn't want more competition either. They already had enough competition from abroad and, when possible, used foreign operations as a cushion against heavy domestic competition. They also looked askance at the Carter team's trading of hard-won route rights for benefits such as more liberal pricing, which sometimes paid off and sometimes did not. U.S. airline health

Now ideology is out. Things have settled back so much into normal bilateral practice worldwide that one industry negotiator calls it "boring." In fact, an airline official noted, this administration is so pragmatic that it has not even issued a formal policy statement of its own.

Instead, what goes for policy, says the Department of Transportation--the chief U.S. polcymaker--is contained in the International Air Transportation Competition Act of 1979. That piece of legislation says the U.S. must advance competition and consumer interests, as did the Carter administration. But it also supports the health of the U.S. airline industry. That was brushed aside during the previous regime. Consumers were paramount. The Carter team said that if consumers benefitted, ultimately so would the industry, although perhaps not individual airlines.

Now, the government is more willing to compromise the inherent conflicts between consumers and industry. An airline official goes so far as to suggest that "there has been a considerable tilt toward the U. …

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