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Travel and You

Airline Groups Seek Help Vs. Government

July 05, 1987|TONI TAYLOR | Taylor, an authority on the travel industry, lives in Los Angeles.

Some organizations in the air transport business will soon be enlisting public support in a fight against what they consider the tightfistedness of the federal government.

The organizations are members of a new coalition, grandly named the Aviation Infrastructure Roundtable. They include the Air Transport Assn., which is the trade association of airlines; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; a consumer group called the International Foundation of Airline Passengers, and the Airport Operators Council International.

The coalition wants government to start spending money for the upgrading of airports and air traffic control. They are asking the public to put pressure on their elected representatives in Washington.

The coalition is investing a lot of money in the educational effort. The next time you buy an air ticket, you're liable to find a leaflet in the envelope outlining the coalition's aims.

Billboards, Stories, Displays

Billboards at strategic airport access and exit roads are planned. Displays will be set up at airports, staffed whenever possible by coalition members, ready to tell the story in greater detail. Airlines will donate space in their in-flight magazines for editorials and articles on the subject.

It is, in every way, a major educational effort by a group that has become weary of going one-on-one with the bureaucracy and getting nowhere. Now they are taking their act right to the voters.

The money the coalition is trying to pry loose is already in place, earmarked for just the purpose they have in mind. It is an amount estimated at $5-billion-plus, accumulated from the 8% tax paid by travelers on every domestic ticket they buy.

That money goes into an aviation trust fund, established years ago to finance airport/air traffic control improvements. The fund has mounted steadily each year, but federal authorities don't seem to be able--or willing--to spend it.

Meanwhile, air traffic control towers and equipment, not to mention personnel, are strained close to breaking. Many of the computers now in use need upgrading badly. New controllers need to be hired. Training procedures must be refined.

All of that takes money. And apparently the money is available. Now it's a matter of getting the Office of Management and Budget to release it.

The airlines are particularly anxious to have the aviation trust fund mobilized. They have argued, ad nauseum, that flight delays are caused by weaknesses in the air traffic control system, not by their own overscheduling.

Legislators Are Watching

If the public shows enough interest in the outcome of this struggle, legislators may be persuaded to support any one of a number of bills now pending in Congress which would force the government to use the money in the trust fund as it was intended.

The most promising of the bills, at this stage, seems to be one by State Sen. Norman Y. Mineta (D.-San Jose), powerful chairman of the aviation subcommittee. Mineta's bill would eliminate the 8% tax entirely, as long as the trust fund contains more than $3 billion.

The tax would be reinstated any time the government has released enough to drop it below that level. The theory behind the proposal is that the OMB won't feel so inclined to hang on to the money once it stops coming in.

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