The Senate Commerce Committee approved a measure yesterday that would reduce airline fares by lowering the current 8 percent ticket tax to 2 percent. It also would bar the nation's largest airports from collecting federal funds for capital improvements.
The measure is designed to give the traveling public a price break at least until a good portion of the uncommitted $3 billion surplus in the airport and airway development trust fund -- built up over the years by the 8 percent ticket tax -- is spent. It also would concentrate federal spending on airports that couldn't generate funds on their own. The chief sponsor is committee Chairman Howard W. Cannon (D-Nev.)
During yesterday's mark-up session, the committee struck a blow for equal rights for women by adopting an amendment proposed by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) that would bar commercial airports from charging women for using restroom facilities and also would require airport operators to keep them clean. Warner said the amendment would eliminate "blatant discrimination" against women and would eliminate the "abominable conditions" of the facilities.
Meanwhile, some members of the House of Representatives are accusing Cannon of having "pulled a fast one" this week in getting the Senate to attach a controversial airplane noise measure that passed the Senate in April to a noncontroversial bill that would lift a prohibition against spending federal money from a discretionary fund on airport improvements.
The House passed the bill Monday. "It wasn't a fast one," Cannon said yesterday. "We did it to try to get some action from the House and get the bill moving.
"Nothing can be approved without a conference where we could work out our differences," he said.
However, as a result of the Senate move, the parliamentary and political situatioin in the House has become extremely complicated, and the House leadership yesterday decided not even to consider naming conferees for at least two weeks while it tries to sort out everything.
The emotion-laden issue of airport noise is at stake.
Cannon and other supporters of the Senate-passed noise bill say the measure prevents airlines from having to make costly modifications to existing airplanes for noise reductions that may not be detectable to the public. Opponents -- including Transportation Secretary Neil Goldschmidt -- say it will permit violation of reasonable noise-reduction standards set in motion by the federal government three years ago.
Under existing Federal Aviation Administration regulations, airlines are required to alter or replace two-engine and three-engine jet aircraft to meet the standards by Jan. 1, 1983, and four-engine jets by Jan. 1, 1985.
The noise bill passed by the Senate would allow airlines to continue using some planes that don't meet the standards if they have ordered quieter planes that are also more fuel efficient to replace them. The bill also would roll back enforcement of the new standards if altering an airplane would not reduce noise by a certain level. Some opponents say the provision would totally exempt the Boeing 727 and 737 and the DC9 planes which constitute the bulk of airlines' fleets, leaving airports with the same amount of overall noise.
A bill similar to the Senate measure passed the House Public Works and Transportation Committee months ago but hasn't cleared the House Rules Committee for floor action. Besides the noise-reduction waivers, the House measure also would bar the FAA from instituting certain air safety regulations, making it even more controversial.
Last week for instance, DOT Secretary Goldschmidt told the House he would recommended a veto of the bill should it pass on grounds that it "provides for more noise and less safety" and is inflationary.
Complicating the noise-bill situation in the House is that the Commerce Committee, which has authority to review part of the measure, planned to introduce a substitute when it came to the floor.
Included in the noncontroversial airport spending bill was an amendment proposed by House Majority Leader James Wright (D-Texas) which would eliminate any interstate airline service from Dallas' Love Field. This would end Southwest Airlines' lowfare service to New Orleans and squelch its plans to spread it lowfare, turn-around air service to other areas, possibly including Chicago's Midway Airport.
Wright, who is from Fort Worth, has been fighting for years to transfer what services the could from Dallas' Love Field to the large airport that is halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth. However, officials of Southwest have contended all along they couldn't operate as efficiently and cheaply from the more expensive location and wouldn't move.