Hobart Rowen welcomed 1991 with another unfounded attack -- his 17th in the past decade -- on one of the great success stories of the 1980s: airline deregulation {op-ed, Jan. 3}. Department of Transportation and Brookings Institution studies that Rowen brushes aside demonstrate that air travel is significantly more affordable under deregulation. In the 10 years following deregulation, average fares declined 26 percent, with more than 90 percent of passengers traveling on discount tickets. As a result, many more Americans are able to fly, and travel on U.S. airlines has increased nearly 70 percent.

Despite Rowen's conviction to the contrary, this was brought about by enhanced competition. While the overall market does have fewer carriers today, each provides service to more pairs of cities. Thus, while only 28 percent of all U.S. passengers traveled in city-pair markets served by at least three airlines in 1979, that number increased to 55 percent by 1988. Thanks to deregulation, in other words, the percentage of passenger trips that took place in truly competitive circumstances nearly doubled.

Finally, Rowen said, "in other nations around the globe, all of which regulate their airlines, there is not a single bankruptcy. That should tell us something."

Right. It tells us he needs to do more homework: four nations have followed our lead in deregulating their airline industries. Beyond that, it tells us that most foreign airlines are creatures of their governments, either through direct ownership or through some form of sponsorship. They don't go bankrupt, because they are largely protected from the competitive challenges U.S. airlines face. As a result, their passengers pay far more for service than we do. -- Jeffrey N. Shane

The writer is assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the Department of Transportation.