Rockefeller and Hutchison Press DOT on Antitrust Immunity Cases

Abrupt Policy Changes Could Jeopardize Open Skies Agreements

July 17, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), the Ranking Member on the Committee, joined together and urged the Department of Transportation to exercise its long-held statutory authority and expertise to determine if applications for airline anti-trust immunity are in the public interest. 
The letter, addressed to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, reads:
“We are writing regarding the long-standing authority of the Department of Transportation (DOT) to approve or disapprove applications for antitrust immunity between U.S. and foreign air carriers. This fundamental component of the Department’s jurisdiction has helped to promote competition in the airline industry by opening up restricted markets and encouraging healthy competition among international alliances.
“The DOT has a well-established process for considering antitrust immunity applications that includes weighing the views of the Department of Justice. Through this process the DOT has made decisions based on the best interest of the traveling public and aviation policy, and made progress in bolstering competition and opening up new markets for U.S. consumers. An Open Skies agreement now exists with the European Union (EU), and by continuing on this path we are hopeful the Department can promote a healthier airline industry that will provide greater benefits to both its workforce and passengers.
“We are concerned that abrupt changes to DOT’s established policy in reviewing these agreements could put Open Skies agreements in great jeopardy and make new ones difficult and potentially impossible to achieve. As the Senate Commerce Committee has primary jurisdiction in this arena, we expect that the DOT will not pursue any changes to its long-standing policy without full consultation with this Committee. Unexpected changes in policy could trigger unanticipated reactions that may adversely affect the current competitive market. This would be a great setback for both consumers and aviation policy. We urge you to not reverse course or standard procedure and move forward expeditiously to further our international aviation goals.”
The DOT has previously consulted with the Department of Justice in antitrust immunity application processes, including the alliance between Continental and United Airlines.