Washington, D.C. --The U.S. Senate passed legislation this morning aimed at helping rural communities maintain or improve air service by encouraging small air carrier competition, according to Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.
The legislation would require large airlines that have service contracts with a "feeder" air carrier to offer the terms of that contract to other qualified small air carriers that wish to serve the same community. The legislation requires the large airlines to give all qualified small airlines access to the same ticketing, baggage and ground handling, terminal and gate services. Competing airlines would have to meet the prescribed safety, service, financial and maintenance requirements.
Enzi said the measure, sponsored by Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., would be advantageous to Wyoming's rural communities who are continually faced with dwindling air travel options.
"It's no secret that the major airlines are moving away from profitable rural markets such as Wyoming to cater to what they think are more profitable urban centers. I'm questioning their accounting," said Enzi. "Our small communities are suffering as a result and often find themselves at the mercy of a monopolistic relationship between one feeder airline and the larger carrier. This legislation would make it easier for other small carriers to break into local markets, giving air travelers more options."
Enzi used Cheyenne as an example. A small airline that wanted to serve Cheyenne would be disadvantaged because United Airlines and its contracted feeder airline Air Wisconsin constitute the community's only air service. Presently United offers Air Wisconsin coordinated ticketing, luggage handling and other services, but does not do the same for other carriers. Under the new legislation United would be required to give the same advantages to all qualified airlines that wish to serve Cheyenne.
The air service competition legislation was added as an amendment to H.R. 4057, the FAA Reauthorization Act. The Act was passed 92-1 this morning. The amendment must still be approved in a conference committee before being passed on to the President. The amendment was added to the FAA bill by unanimous consent.