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A look at the airline industry’s Washington lobbying agenda

🕐 3 min read

Airlines are aggressively lobbying Congress and the Obama administration on a host of issues, from foreign competitors to consumer rules. Among the items on their agenda:


—Delta, United and American airlines and the Air Line Pilots Association are pressing the administration for a freeze in the number of flights to the U.S. by Persian Gulf airlines Emirates, Etihad and Qatar. The U.S. airlines also want Washington to open discussions with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar about whether the Gulf carriers are violating aviation treaties. The U.S. airlines say the Gulf carriers have received huge subsidies, allowing them to charge lower fares and gain market share. Consumer advocates say the U.S. carriers are trying to ward off competitors, especially in the lucrative trans-Atlantic market.

—The three U.S. carriers and their pilot unions are fighting an application by Norwegian Air International, a subsidiary of the third-largest low-cost carrier in Europe, to expand its flights to the U.S. from Europe and Asia. They say the subsidiary’s business model will drive down wages and undermine safety, which Norwegian denies. The Ireland-based subsidiary plans to hire pilots through a Singapore broker and base them in Thailand.

—Delta Air Lines has been campaigning to block the U.S. Export-Import Bank from helping foreign competitors like Air India and the Gulf carriers finance the purchase of planes from Boeing, saying the planes are used to compete on routes flown by U.S. airlines. The aircraft maker is the nation’s largest exporter in dollars. The bank’s lending authority lapsed on July 1 after tea party conservatives in Congress prevented its renewal.

—Airlines are fighting an effort by airports to raise from $4.50 to $8.50 the “passenger facility charge” included in ticket prices. The fee hasn’t increased in 15 years. Airports want to use the additional money to enlarge terminals and add gates to attract more airlines. But airlines already there have an interest in keeping out competitors. Because of mergers, one or two carriers control a majority of the market at most U.S. airports.



—Several airlines took their case all the way to the Supreme Court in an effort to block a Transportation Department regulation that requires that the full ticket price, including taxes and fees, be the most prominent fare in the largest type on search screens and in ads. After they lost, airlines twice persuaded the House to pass a bill to roll back the rule. The Senate has shown no interest in taking up the bill, but the industry says the issue isn’t dead.

—Airlines object to proposed regulations that would require everyone who sells airline tickets to tell consumers the cost of a first and second checked bag, an advance seat assignment and a carry-on bag on the first search screen where airfares are displayed, rather than waiting until a consumer has selected a fare and is checking out. That way, the Transportation Department reasons, consumers will know the full cost of the trip from the beginning and won’t be surprised later by fees, which can vary widely.



—Airlines are using their political muscle to convince Congress to spin off air traffic control operations from the government to a nonprofit corporation. They say years of federal budget uncertainty have hindered efforts to modernize the air traffic system. Private aircraft operators worry the change would shift costs to them and force them out of busy airports to make more room for airlines.

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