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 MediaNomics

What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise
 

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December 1998

 

CBS: Unions Can Do No Wrong

Network reporters, especially at CBS, always have been uncomfortable with airline deregulation. On the February 29, 1992 CBS Evening News, for example, correspondent Bob Schieffer asked, "Whatever happened to all those airlines, large and small, that used to fly Americans here, there, and everywhere? Fourteen years after deregulation, the airline industry is in a tailspin."

The CBS assault on airline deregulation continued on the October 28 CBS Evening News. This time, instead of endangering large carriers, deregulation was blamed for allowing them too much power. According to Dan Rather, "Itís been 20 years now since airline deregulation began with much fanfare and big promises that it would mean more competition, better services, and lower fares. In some ways deregulation has succeeded. But many people who fly are still asking, ĎWhat happened?í" In the story that followed, correspondent Bob Orr admitted that "20 years after the government allowed the airlines to set their own schedules, routes, and prices, more Americans than ever are flying, and after years of losses, big airlines are making big profits. With deregulation, ticket prices on average have been cut by a third, while the number of flights have doubled."

Now the problem with deregulation, Orr reported, is that the big airlines no longer see it as profitable to provide service to smaller cities: "Like other small cities, Decatur [Illinois] lost out when airlines reassigned their jets to more profitable markets, leaving behind small planes and spotty service." Concluded Orr: "Twenty years into deregulation, a select few big airlines, enriched and empowered by the free market, have all the clout. Any calls for change will only be embraced when thereís money to be made."

But is this really whatís behind the spotty service outside major metropolitan areas? Not according to Forbesí Howard Banks. In the November 30 Forbes, he points out that the airline pilotsí union has negotiated "something called the scope clause," which "blocks any of the majorsí associated regional carriers...from flying jets with more than 70 seats." The pilots donít like these little jets because "they are flown by pilots making much less money than big-jet pilots."

Banks reports that "such aircraft could immensely expand the number of flights to and from medium-sized airports that canít economically justify service by 737s and Airbus A320s. But the airlines canít make these little planes pay if they have to staff them with pilots making big salaries and benefits." According to Banks, "Common sense says that no clause in a union contract can hold up the tide of economic progress forever. But it can hold it up for a long time."

Skepticism toward unions, however, is not something CBS viewers should expect to see anytime soon.

 

ó Rich Noyes

 


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