Bowing to the protests of governments around the world the Civil Aeronautics Board has granted in the International Air Transport Association antitrust immunity for fare-setting activities on routes that don't touch the United States.
However, the board said it would continue its review to determine whether it should allow IATA's member airlines to fix fares on the routes that affect U.S. travelers the most -- those to and from the United States.
In deciding to limit the scope of its controversial probe of IATA to flights that directly affect the United States, the board said written comments and especially views presented to the U.S. delegation during consultations on three continents in July had sharpened its recognition that "the interests of foreign sovereign nations in the conditions governing air transportation between them greatly exceed any that we might have by reason of U.S. carrier participation or U.S. citizen travel.
"Accordingly, we believe that . . . deference to those nations in matters where their interests are much more intense that our own require that we confine the scope of this proceeding . . . to that area which most directly involves our national interest -- namely, whether we should continue to approve and provide immunity for IATA rate and rate-related resolutions involving air transportation to or from the United States," the board said.
While the board order means IATA members can go on setting passenger fares and cargo rates for all but U.S. routes without the threat of antitrust prosecution, Knut Hammarskjold, director general of IATA, didn't think the board went far enough.
"This apparent concession failed to address the real issue . . . of concern to foreign governments," he said. "This issue is the attempt by the CAB to unilaterally change the multilateral aviation system which includes routes between the United States and foreign nations."
Aviation officials here disagreed. "The order focuses on what is very clearly our business: prices set on flights to and from the United States," one said. "No government in the world concedes away its right to control flights to and from its country or to take unilateral action once in a while."