The big question for the remaining employes at the Civil Aeronautics Board: where do we go from here?
The CAB was the first of the transportation-regulating agencies to feel the bite of deregulation. Congress eliminated its authority over domestic airline routes at the end of 1981 and over domestic air fares a year later. The airlines now decide where to go and what to charge.
That left the CAB with three major responsibilities: establishing international routes and fares, which have to be decided along with other nations; making certain that small communities receive air service (not necessarily from the Americans and Uniteds of this world), and enforcing consumer and antitrust regulations.
Those responsibilities will remain somewhere after the CAB goes out of business on Jan. 1, 1985. But, while Congress has decreed the death of the CAB, it is not entirely clear where the bodies will go.
The airline deregulation act said that the international and small-community functions will be transferred to the Transportation Department; various legislative proposals have put forth other ideas. It is assumed, but is not law, that the consumer and antitrust duties will be placed in the Federal Trade Commission, the Justice Department or both. Even the U.S. Postal Service is likely to get part of the CAB, deciding how much airlines can charge to carry the mail.
What this means, however, is that CAB employes, being human, are spending at least a little time wondering about the future and not quite as much as they once did worrying about regulatory issues, according to a number of them. Much the same situation exists at the Interstate Commerce Commission, which regulates railroads, trucking companies and interstate buses and has lost much of its authority (and 1,300 of its 2,500 employes) through recent legislation.
When airline deregulation was approved in 1978, the CAB had 830 employes; it is down to 456. All of the cuts have been through attrition, according to Michael D. Sherwin, the agency's managing director. "It's getting to the point where it's more and more difficult to do by attrition," Sherwin said. " . . . We're losing good people every day, and we're rapidly running out of backup support in a lot of areas."
Much of the CAB's work is technical and requires a high degree of specialization. One can argue that the government has no business worrying about such things, that industry can regulate itself and there is no need for government specialists. If, however, you think government should do what Congress has assigned it to do--and do it well--the loss of able people hurts.
A major issue for the CAB this year is posed by airline computer reservation systems. Recent congressional hearings focused on whether American and United, which have captured most of the market with their computer systems, are programming the systems to the disadvantage of other airlines and, ultimately, to the disadvantage of the consumer seeking the best flight, the cheapest fare or both.
It's a question the old CAB would investigate with vigor. The current CAB has produced a report defining the problem generally, but making no recommendations and initiating no formal investigations or rulemaking proposals that might shed some light.
There is also continuing unease in Congress about some of the effects of airline deregulation, particularly the high cost of tickets from here to places like Fargo, N.D., as opposed to the relatively low price of a flight to Los Angeles. Sen. Mark Andrews (R-N.D.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, wants a congressional commission to study deregulation. He would fund the CAB only through next June, pending the commission's report.