By a lopsided vote of 363 to 8 the House yesterday approved legislation designed to increase competition among the nation's airlines by reducing federal regulation.
The bill would reduce the role of the Civil Aeronautics Board and allow airlines more freedom to cut their rates and establish new routes.
The bill calls for abolition of the CAB by 1983. Some of its powers - over mergers, subsidies and international agreements - would be transferred to other agencies.
The Senate approved similar legislation in April. The two measures now go to a House-Senate conference, which will iron out the differences.
President Carter, who has pushed for an airline deregulation bill since early in his presidency, hailed the House vote yesterday.
"With this legislation," he said, "we achieve two critical national objectives: controlling inflation and, at the same time, cutting unnecessary bureaucratic red tape."
He also said the recent competition among airlines, anticipating the deregulation bill, "has brought lower fares, more passengers and record profits."
He added that he hoped conferees would quickly resolve their differences and that the bill would reach his desk "for signature as soon as possible."
Getting the bill to conference, however, may prove to be a stumbling block. After the bill's passage yesterday, Public Works and Transportation Committee Chairman Harold T. Johnson (D-Calif.) made it clear that the House wanted to move two bills to conference simultaneously: the deregulation bill and a bill passed last week to provide the airlines with up to $4 billion to help buy new planes that would meet future federal antinoise regulations.
While the deregulation bill breezed through the Senate, an aircraft noise bill with a somewhat different approach still faces some high hurdles in the Senate. It had cleared the Senate Commerce Committee, awaits action by the Finance Committee, and is expected to face some strong opposition on the Senate floor.
Johnson refused to say whether he would allow the deregulation bill to go to conference without the noise bill."I was pretty well understood from the start that the House was working on the noise bill as their first priority, and the Senate was working on the deregulation bill as their first priority," Johnson said. "Now we have the problem of working out conferences on both bills with the Senate."
Johnson said he wanted "to work these bills together" and would be talking to key senators after the weekend.
The airline industry has been subjected to increasing competition in the last two years because of action by the CAB. But supporters if the legislation, including the CAB itself, legislators, administration officials and some airlines, said a bill updating the 1938 regulatory framework, was needed to assure a continuation of the benefits the public and the industry are low experiencing. They feared the move toward more competition could be blunted by a change in CAB members or through legal challenges to board intiatives that have not yet worked their way through the courts.
The bill passed yesterday would:
Give the CAB new policy guideline emphasizing competition. It would also impose procedural deadlines for board decisions, remove the required evidentiary hearings in some proceedings and broaden the board's authority to grant exemptions from the act.
Give the airlines limited authority to enter new routes without CAB approval and provide them greater access to routes in which airlines holding authority are not using it.
Grant the airlines more flexibility to lower or increase fares without CAB approval.
Guarantee small communities subsidized air service for 10 years and make commuter airlines eligible for federal subsidies to serve those towns. The commuter airlines would also be allowed to use larger airplanes.
During its consideration of the measure yesterday, the House accepted several important amendments.
It adopted, 300 to 86. an amendment by Rep. Allen E. Ertel (D-Pa.), saying airlines seeking to keep out potential competitors must prove that the proposed new service is not consistent with the public interest. That would shift the burden of proof from those seeking the route to those opposing it.
The House also accepted. 229 to 78, an amendment by Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) that would abloish the Mutual Aid Pact, a strike insurance agreement under which the 15 member airline agree to reimburse a struck airline for some of its normal operating costs.
The House also accepted an amendment by Rep. Matthew F. McHugh (D.N.Y.), which would assure small and medium-sized communities with "essential air transportation without interruption" for 10 years by forcing an airline that wants to reduce service on a route to continue to fly it anyway - with federal subsidy - unless it can find a replacement airline. The CAB is instructed to determine what is "essential air service" for each of 400 to 500 of those communities.