[photopress:air_American_1.jpg,full,alignright]U.S. airlines say they cannot afford to fly new routes or maintain all flights to China and other countries that restrict access, but they still want to keep their rights to serve those destinations.
Carriers asked the Bush administration to preserve rights for two years, an unusually long time, while they scramble to reverse a financial nose dive blamed on expensive fuel prices.
The carriers wrote in a joint application to defer service: ‘All U.S. airlines are being forced to re-evaluate the flights they offer to avert financial catastrophe.’
American Airlines; Delta ; United Airlines; US Airways; Continental Airlines; and Northwest Airlines expect a decision soon from the Transportation Department.
Privately held Spirit Airlines called the proposal an anti-competitive effort by bigger rivals to ‘deep-freeze’ valuable routes while slashing other service.
The latest request, if granted, would represent one of the only government steps to assist airlines during the current downturn, which some analysts predict could be worse than the last one from 2002-06 when four big airlines went bankrupt.
[photopress:air_American_2.jpg,full,alignleft]Andrew Steinberg, an attorney with Jones Day and a former senior U.S. official on international aviation matters, said the industry is ‘clearly in financial extremis’ and said the government ‘has to recognize’ airlines cannot fulfill all of their overseas plans because fuel is so expensive.
He said, ‘I think it’s a shame because international service is where the profits have been and where the growth is.’
U.S. airlines are on track to pay more than $61 billion for fuel this year, up $20 billion over last year.
Airlines did not specify where they want to halt or slow service but some have said individually that China routes are too costly.