Uncle Sam Shows Little Reaction To Airlines Tailspin

WASHINGTON | Updated: Oct 30 2004, 05:30am hrs
For US airlines, this week brought grim news of bankrucpty, huge financial losses and proposed pay cuts. But it has not brought a hint of help from Uncle Sam.

Neither the White House nor Congress has offered any hope of federal assistance for beleaguered carriers coping with soaring jet fuel prices, heavy pension obligations, significant security costs and taxes.

Theres not a lot we can do for them, said Sam Whitehorn, senior Democratic counsel to the Senate Commerce Commi-ttee. House Transportation Committee spokesman Justin Harclerode said the House plans no action to ease the airlines financial pinch.

In August, the Air Transport Association, the main industry lobbying group, requested congressional hearings into the oil-price surge as soon as possible. It urged Congress to consider reversing the Bush administrations policy of buying oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and instead begin to sell some reserve in order to increase supply and bring stability to oil prices.

When Congress met in September and early October, it did not address the request.

The ATA estimates that for U.S. airlines to break even, oil prices must stay below $31 a barrel. In recent weeks, oil has been trading at more than $50 a barrel.

MARILYN GEEWAX / NY TIMES