Aviation leaders urge Congress to act on energy policy – now

They call for a special session of Congress, but many are skeptical the session will get off the ground.

Contending that the nation is now in a "full-blown and deepening energy crisis which is causing irreparable harm," some leaders in the aviation industry are urging President Bush to call a special session of Congress next month.

The goal would be to debate energy alternatives and establish policies that would lead to a coherent national energy policy. The idea is to move away from a piecemeal attack on $100-plus--a-barrel oil by just attempting to rein in speculators, who are blamed for the high prices. Instead, the idea is to attack the underlying psychology, which is that there will not be enough oil in the world to address growing demand.

"Our problem is that our national confidence has been eroded by the perception that the most powerful country in the world ... lacks the political will to address the energy crisis," says Robert Crandall, former CEO of American Airlines. "A coherent, long-term national energy policy encompassing a full range of options would reverse the perception that America can no longer deal with her problems."

Other aviation analysts agree that the nation needs a comprehensive energy policy. But they argue that the aviation industry's problems are more complex than just high oil prices. The airline industry is by nature cyclical, they note, and its current economic troubles are typical of the downside of an economic cycle. The larger problem, as they see it, is that during good times of the economic cycle, the airlines didn't make enough money to weather the inevitable downtown. That has been compounded by the run-up in fuel prices.

These analysts argue that current oil prices are tied to economic and foreign policy as well as a national energy policy. "We've needed a comprehensive energy and transportation policy for 30 years. That's nothing new," says Robert Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Co. in Port Washington, N.Y. "[This current crisis] is tied to a very broad set of problems that are related to a whole series of decisions – some of which were made 30 years ago, some of which were made seven years ago – as well as a series of disastrous economic and foreign-policy decisions."

Some political analysts aren't optimistic about the chances for a special session of Congress, primarily because this is an election year and both Mr. Bush and Congress currently have low popularity ratings.

"Bush is as lame a lame duck as we've ever had in history, and Congress is even less popular. It's just not going to happen," says Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "The next opportunity to develop [a comprehensive energy policy] is with a new president and a new Congress."

Such a session of Congress would be highly unusual, acknowledges Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, which represents corporate travel managers. But Mr. Mitchell, coauthor of a letter to Bush about the matter, adds that if the president and Congress "really care about the country," they might want to consider it.

"What we have to do is attack is the psychology. We have to come up with some solutions that will be viewed as credible as a short-term energy policy by the market," he says. Oil prices wouldn't be going up the way they are, he adds, "were it not for the fact that investors perceive that we're not capable of solving our own problems – whether it's the lack of the right monetary policy or the right energy policy."

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