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Debate Held on Lowering Air Fares

February 6, 1999

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ To rein in airfare costs that have soared to $1 million a year, Larry Peckham is pondering relocating his software company from upstate New York to a larger city.

``If we were in Baltimore, it would be one-fifth as much. We would save $800,000, which would double our profits,″ said Peckham, who founded LPA Software Inc. and employs 150 people in suburban Rochester.

Peckham was among dozens of business, government and airline representatives who took part in a debate in Rochester on Friday on ways to lower plane fares in medium-sized cities.

``We recognize that the benefits of deregulation have not flowed to all cities and regions,″ said U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, who led the discussion.

Slater chose Rochester because its rates are among the nation’s highest _ an average of 31.1 cents a mile. That’s the fourth highest in the country, after Richmond, Va., Charlotte, N.C., and Greensboro, N.C.

By contrast, the cheapest rate can be found in Las Vegas, where travelers pay about 11.1 cents a mile, according to DOT statistics.

Elliott Seiden, a vice president of Northwest Airlines, said the DOT numbers give an inaccurate picture of the market because they lump together all kinds of fares _ from 90-day advance to the more expensive walk-up fare.

Congress is considering a variety of proposals to induce carriers to improve service to secondary routes and to crack down on airlines that squash low-cost competitors.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Democrat whose district includes Rochester, reintroduced a bill last month designed to boost low-cost airlines by reallocating slots to them at major airports.

Travel agent Juliann Koch said many of her Rochester customers trek hours to larger cities to get cheaper flights. But others, she said, just ``grin and bear it.″

``The airlines have us in a stronghold,″ Koch said. ``People have to fly and if they’re going to buy the tickets, they’re not going to lower the fares.″

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