WASHINGTON – U.S. airlines on Wednesday again asked Congress for help, saying Hurricane Katrina (search) and record fuel costs as well as taxes and fees imposed after the Sept. 11 attacks were driving some of the oldest carriers into bankruptcy.
Lawmakers said they would consider ways to aid the beleaguered industry. But they offered little in the way of specific proposals during a hearing of the aviation subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee.
"The airlines have been in crisis in the past, but I don't think I've ever seen anything like this," said Sen. John McCain (search), R-Ariz. "I don't think we should ignore any option."
Delta Air Lines (search) and Northwest Airlines (search) filed for bankruptcy protection Wednesday, bringing 47 percent of the major airlines' capacity into Chapter 11, industry representative James May told lawmakers.
May, president of the Air Transport Association, said airlines want a one-year reprieve from the 4.3-cent federal tax on jet fuel.
That would save $600 million -- not enough to stem the $9 billion to $10 billion in losses they expect to report this year, but a help nonetheless.
"It's a small step in the right direction," May said, noting that major airlines have lost more than $32 billion since the terrorist attacks of 2001.
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said lawmakers need to come up with a long-term solution to airlines' woes.
"We've made some real efforts, but things have gotten worse," Lott said.
Congress, though, may be tiring of bailing out the troubled airline industry.
Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on aviation, said it is not fair to make the public pay for failing businesses.
"Even with high fuel prices a good number of them have made money," said Mica, R-Fla. "I've advocated a tough love approach."
Eleven days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the airlines succeeded in getting $5 billion in cash and a $10 billion loan guarantee program from Congress.
Soon after the Iraq war began, Congress gave airlines $2.9 billion, mostly in cash to reimburse them for security costs.
Airlines have cuts costs and sought to make themselves more efficient, but May said they cannot make money because of expensive fuel and cheap fares.