Clinton reaches for the sky

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WASHINGTON (AP) - President-elect Bill Clinton has promised to end 'nutty' Republican policies which, he says, have burdened the United States airline industry with crushing debt and business failures.

In a letter to a Washington aviation group, he criticised the lack of regulation. 'Staggering losses, bankruptcies, layoffs, cutbacks, labour-management strife, low morale are all features of our aviation system today,' he said. 'The Reagan and Bush administrations have so distorted the concept of regulation that we will never know how it would have worked.'

Since 1990, three big US airlines - Eastern, Pan American and Midway - have ceased operations, and Continental, TWA and America West have sought the protection of the federal bankruptcy court.

Mr Clinton said the Bush administration had failed to enforce anti-trust laws and had thrown 'open the doors to outrageous, leveraged buy-outs' that had resulted in airline mergers and accumulation of heavy debt. He opposed giving foreign airlines air routes inside the United States, and noted that they represent 50 per cent of the world's aviation market.

During the election campaign, he specifically said that he would not approve the now-withdrawn British Airways bid to buy a dollars 750m ( pounds 484m) share of USAir, a move critics said would have given the British carrier access to US markets while US airlines were barred from similar access to British air routes.

Any change in the ban on foreign carriers flying US routes 'would have to be part of a broader civil aviation package that serves US transportation needs', Mr Clinton said.

Airports and airways are a critical component of the dollars 20bn annual investment that Mr Clinton has proposed to improve America's infrastructure. He said there had been widespread dissatisfaction with the Federal Aviation Administration, which runs the air traffic control system and checks aircraft for safety.

LITTLE ROCK - Bill Clinton has filled his four remaining cabinet posts, Reuter reports. Zoe Baird, general counsel for an insurance company, becomes attorney-general, the first woman in the post. The former governor of Arizona, Bruce Babbitt, becomes interior secretary.

Federico Pena, former mayor of Denver, takes over as transportation secretary, and Mr Clinton's campaign chairman, Californian lawyer Mickey Kantor, becomes US trade representative.

The black congressman Mike Espy, who serves a poverty-stricken Mississippi district, has been made agriculture secretary, and Joycelyn Elders, the Arkansas state health director, has been given the post of surgeon general.