Sept. 26, 2001 — In addition to the $15 billion bailout to the U.S. airline industry following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, congressional Democrats are trying to move legislation to help airline employees who will be affected, as well as to limit economic damage to small carriers.
At a press conference Tuesday in Washington, D.C., Delegate Donna Christian Christensen joined fellow Democrats in supporting legislation to provide financial assistance, training and health-care coverage for airline industry employees who have lost their jobs as a result of the events of Sept. 11.
"This package should not stop here," Christensen said at a press conference. "I want to go even further and urge the leadership in both houses of Congress to immediately pass legislation to provide relief, not just to displaced airline employees but to all workers similarly affected."
Christensen said she will continue to work with fellow Democrats to see that small tourism businesses and laid-off tourism workers also receive benefits.
The airline industry emergency-aid package that President George W. Bush signed into law on Saturday provides $5 billion in direct federal aid and $10 billion in loan guarantees for an industry that has announced tens of thousands of layoffs since the terrorist attacks. Christensen said she supports that move but also has joined fellow Democrats in seeking relief for others affected within the tourism industry.
In support of the Virgin Islands tourism industry in particular, Christensen wrote to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chair, Rep. Don Young, supporting the stand of the House Rural Caucus that small and rural airports should not be bypassed by the airlines in the wake of the tragedy. She also requested aid for travel agents and small carriers such as the territory's Seaborne Airlines.
"We in the Rural Caucus were successful in ensuring that the airlines would maintain service to small airports that they served before Sept. 11," Christensen said in a release, "and I am hopeful that Seaborne, the Virgin Islands' only local airline, will be able to seek redress under the airline bill."
Aviation experts have said the bailout of the airline industry, which has laid off about 100,000 workers in the past two weeks, would not ensure survival of all carriers if ticket sales remain slow.
Of the $5 billion in cash, more than half will go to the top five carriers, which control about 70 percent of available U.S. capacity. Smaller airlines — Alaska Air was cited as an example — would get a total of about $75 million.
The airline industry bailout package requires airlines to maintain routes to airports they served before Sept. 11. It also directs the Secretary of Transportation to ensure that the airlines maintain adequate service to small communities. However, it does not stipulate how such provisions will be enforced.
Continental Express, for example, has already announced that it will no longer fly to the Texas communities of Tyler, Waco, Abilene and San Angelo beginning in October, and it has reduced flights to other Texas airports, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Decisions on which of Continental's flights were curtailed and which airports were cut were based on market factors, Continental spokesman Jeff Awalt said.
US Airways has stopped regional jet service to Charleston, S.C., and had brought small turboprop planes back into service.
The real stimulus for regional airports must come through passenger demand, Texas Rep. Nick Lampson said. Since airlines were deregulated in 1978, many flights to small airports have been cut, and the cost of tickets on the remaining ones have increased enormously, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said.


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