NO ONE EVER THOUGHT it would be easy to achieve the regulatory reform that President Carter talked about during the campaign last fall. And the experience so far with his target - the Civil Aeronautics Board and the airline industry - underlines the difficulties. Real regulatory reform -which in this case means reducing the power of the CAB over what the airlines do - rocks the boat. Neither Congress nor the industry seems to be in much of a hurry to do that.
The reaction to a compromise bill, drafted by the Senate Commerce Committe staff and specifically endorsed by the President late in June, is illustrative. The bill would increase competition in two areas now tightly controlled by the CAB: It would let each airline set its own fares, without CAB permission but withing prescribed limits, and start or stop service, again without permission, on some routes. Other provisions would encourage the development of commuter airlines and guarantee servicce to small towns for 10 years.
This is hardly a package of radical changes. it is about as small a stop toward total deregulation as can be taken with any effect. Yet, few members of the Senate - and fewer still of the House - received it with any enthusiasm. Some senators said they are worried about how airlines based in their states might fare economically if these changes are made. Others said they are concerned about what might happen to airline service to the small towns in their states. Still others said that they want to have more hearings, even though the committee has already heard witnesses for 13 days this year. In the House, not even preliminary moves have been made to look at the issue, even though it stands high on the President's list of legislation. And most, but not all, of the airlines are busy feeding congressional doubte and anxieties.
In other words despite all those brave speeches you hear from Capitol Hill about the need for regulatory reform, the heavy-handed work of bureaucrats and excessive government interference in business, there is little desire to take a small step toward freeing even one industry from government control. Not many congressman are ready to disrupt the familiar and pliable arrangement under which the CAB now controls the airlines and under the airlines and particualr members of Congress maneuver to gain influence at the CAB for their pet projects.