WASHINGTON -- A key House panel approved a bill Wednesday to help struggling airlines, but the effort may be too late to become law this year as Congress nears the end of its session and the Senate hasn't yet acted on a similar bill.
The House Transportation Committee's aviation panel endorsed a package of loan guarantees, terrorism insurance and new procedures to lighten some security costs that airlines say are devastating the industry.
Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., said the bill could save the industry $1.5 billion by extending government-sponsored terrorism insurance, fully reimbursing the cost for bulletproof cockpit doors and allowing airlines to carry mail.
"(That's) half of what the airlines said they need to get on a stable economic footing,'' Oberstar said.
Leaders of some of the nation's largest airlines are asking Congress for the aid, saying they expect to lose $7 billion this year because fewer people are flying since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and because of security costs.
Subcommittee Chair John Mica, R-Fla., said the bill would cut costs, share the security burden and help bring airline workers back to work without raiding taxpayers' wallets.
''If we fail to act, the airline industry could be another victim of the Sept. 11th attacks,'' he said.
The subcommittee agreed to extend the terrorism insurance policies issued by the government after the hijackings last year and to limit to $100 million each airline's total liability for people injured or killed on the ground or in buildings during an act of terrorism.
It also agreed to reopen a loan-guarantee program for financially troubled airlines if the United States goes to war with Iraq. Should Congress authorize force against Iraq and oil prices rise by 25 percent, the committee voted to give them loan guarantees and lines of credit to buy jet fuel.
Another measure would bring in more money for airlines -- restoring their ability to carry U.S. mail weighing more than 12 ounces, which could generate $305 million annually. Airlines were banned from carrying heavier mail after the terror attacks.
The committee also ordered the administration to reimburse airlines in full for bulletproof cockpit doors. The airlines say the stronger new doors cost $45,000 each. The administration is paying them a fraction of that amount.
The bill, supported by a unanimous voice vote of the panel's Republicans and Democrats, must still be approved by the House Transportation Committee and then the full House before it goes to the Senate.
Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., said it was unlikely the bill will become law because it's so late in the session.
Addressing Mica, he said, ''You know and I know that this bill will never see the light of day on the president's desk.''
On the Net:
Web site for the House aviation subcommittee: http://www.house.gov/transportation.
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