Inouye unlikely to back extension
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Washington Bureau
Hawai'i's Sen. Dan Inouye probably will not revisit his decision opposing an extension of a federal antitrust exemption for Hawaiian and Aloha airlines that allowed limited cooperation between the two carriers, an aide said yesterday.
After the Sept. 11 attacks and the dramatic downturn in the airline industry, Hawaiian and Aloha received approval to coordinate their interisland flight capacities. The agreement allowed the carriers to essentially avoid operating planes that were running half-empty to the same destinations.
Since flight reductions took effect in December, Hawai'i residents and some tour companies have complained that a shortage of flights has been disrupting personal as well as business travel. Both airlines say the interisland operations have not been profitable and raised their ticket prices and stopped selling flight coupons.
"The combination of a weak economy and the uncertainties created by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and America's engagement in the Middle East has resulted in severe negative impacts on the airline industry and its employees,'' Inouye said in a statement.
"I am committed to working to ensure reliable interisland air service for our residents and visitors."
Inouye did not specify how he intended to accomplish that goal.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, has talked with his Senate colleagues about possible relief for the struggling airline industry.
The airlines have asked Congress to suspend user fees and taxes during the war.
Some lawmakers have balked at additional aid to an industry that was in financial trouble prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.
But Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawai'i, said Congress should consider some immediate financial help.
"We're totally dependent on air travel, both interisland and to the Mainland,'' Case said, referring to Hawai'i's location. "I think it's appropriate for us to assist these airlines to get through the tough times."
Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, introduced a measure this week to help offset the expected war-related downturn in Hawai'i's tourism by restoring the deduction for spousal business travel.
Abercrombie said he expects the deduction to increase travel as well as spending at conventions.
"The conflict in Iraq will depress Hawai'i's visitor count, and we need to look for ways to counter that effect," Abercrombie said.
"The bottom line here is jobs, paychecks and small-business survival."