The House Judiciary Committee will look into the relationship between the Department of Transportation and the Justice Department on airline antitrust issues in a hearing Wednesday creatively titled, “Should DOJ Co-Pilot the Airline Antitrust Immunity Process?”
DOT recently granted broad antitrust immunity for Continental Airlines to join members of the Star alliance group of carriers. The Justice Department’s Antitrust Division under Christine Varney strongly opposed antitrust immunity that would allow the carriers to share scheduling, pricing and other information. The DOJ said the partnership with Continental — which DOT tentatively approved in April — could harm consumers.
Several members of Congress have sided with DOJ including Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee Chair Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chair Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and Senate Commerce Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas).
Kohl has repeatedly asked DOT to give DOJ “substantial deference” in decisions regarding antitrust immunity for international airline alliances.
Oberstar has called for a end to airline alliances, according to The Wall Street Journal. The House passed Oberstar-backed aviation legislation in May that would eliminate all alliances within three years, compelling airlines to resubmit applications for antitrust immunity under potentially tougher standards, The Journal said.
Rockefeller introduced the Senate’s version of the bill this week without the language about eliminating airline alliances. But the senator from West Virginia is still disappointed about the DOT decision.
“We are concerned that abrupt changes to DOT’s established policy in reviewing those agreements could put Open Skies agreements in great jeopardy and make new ones difficult and potentially impossible to achieve,” Rockefeller wrote in a letter to DOT Secretary Ray LaHood obtained by The Journal, which was co-signed by Hutchison.