Transportation secretary meets with leaders of struggling aviation industry

Tuesday, September 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Leaders of the nation's major airlines, hit hard by financial problems and security concerns, sought assurances Tuesday in a White House meeting with Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, who said the Bush administration was preparing a package of relief.

``They've got to be made whole,'' Mineta said afterward.

Mineta said the twin attacks on Washington and New York are costing the industry $250 million to $300 million a day. He hoped to deliver proposals for aid by early next week, but would not divulge what is under consideration.

From the White House meeting, Mineta headed to Capitol Hill to discuss financial aid with congressional appropriators.

The transportation secretary was careful to avoid suggestions that the federal government will bail out the airlines, which were hurting before the attacks.

``The whole issue (is) trying to come up with a package not relating to whether this industry is going to be helped, but in terms of the details of what has to be done to ensure the security, the safety and the stability of the airline industry,'' he said.

``We are in very urgent need of a financial infusion very quickly,'' said Leo Mullin of Delta Air Lines, standing next to Mineta. He said estimates of airlines' needs ranged as high as $24 billion, but declined to say precisely what the industry is seeking. The attacks and aftermath, he said, represent ``the biggest challenge in our history.''

Major airlines have suffered millions of dollars in losses because of the shutdown and service cutbacks following last week's terrorists attacks. Carriers have announced more than 26,000 layoffs and have discussed the possibility some will face bankruptcy without federal assistance of as much as $20 billion.

Mineta said the Bush administration will work closely with the industry and Congress ``to help maintain the strength of our nation's aviation industry.''

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said: ``The president does recognize this attack has had consequences not only on the lives lost and people missing and the psyche of our country, but on American commerce, American industry, Americans' ability to travel. He's going to explore what the government needs to do, with an open mind, to deal with this.''

The airline representatives did not make an immediate statement at their session with Mineta and Jane Garvey, head of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Members of Congress have said they will move quickly to assist the troubled airline industry, which had seen many carriers losing money even before the terrorist attacks.

In Monday's stock trading, several airlines lost as much as 40 percent of their stock value.

``If we don't act soon, I'm afraid that it will be even more difficult to resuscitate this key industry in the future,'' Sen. John McCain of Arizona, senior Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, has said.

The House could pass legislation this week providing at least $15 billion in grants and credits to the industry.

Attending the meeting with Mineta were Mullin; Fred Smith, Federal Express; Don Carty, American Airlines; Richard Anderson, Northwest Airlines; Rakesh Gangwal, US Airways; John Kelly, Alaska Airlines; Jim Goodwin, United Airlines; Gordon Bethune, Continental Airlines; and Carol Hallet, of the industry trade group the Air Transport Association.

On hand representing the administration were budget chief Mitchell Daniels and top Bush economic adviser Larry Lindsey.