As a member of the National Research Council committee that issued its report last month on competition in the airline industry, I am gratified by the enthusiastic appraisal of our work by John Robson [op-ed, Aug. 27], under whose chairmanship the Civil Aeronautics Board initiated the process of deregulation in the middle '70s.
His column does, however, convey a somewhat misleading impression of the committee's views on the rules proposed by the Department of Transportation to prevent or penalize companies for engaging in unfair exclusionary or predatory conduct. While he is correct in observing that "the panel's majority did not recommend adoption" of those particular rules, it is not true that, as he put it, "the panel's majority . . . [instead] favored having the Department of Justice as the cop on the beat."
While our executive summary noted that all members expressed concerns about the "administrative feasibility" of the proposed rules and "the potential for undesirable consequences," only some members of the study committee would prefer that the Department of Justice take the lead in enforcement. Other members judged the problem "serious enough to warrant the more active involvement of the Department of Transportation." Those members "are optimistic that DOT can do this without becoming overly regulatory and without inhibiting the kind of competitive price cutting that provides lasting fare reductions."
One small clarification: Mr. Robson implies that the benefits to travelers generally from deregulation continued to increase during the 1990s, as fares declined an additional 25 percent during that decade. That is somewhat misleading. The 25 percent decline was only relative to the consumer price index; as a graph in our report clearly shows, it was no greater than the decline in the index of industry costs, primarily because of the sharp drop in fuel prices.
ALFRED E. KAHN
The writer was chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board in 1977-1978.