WASHINGTON -- Civil Aeronautics Board Chairman Dan McKinnon, joining the administration's attack on drug smuggling, warned airlines Tuesday their licenses could be revoked if employees are found trafficking in drugs.
McKinnon told a luncheon meeting of the Aero Club he has directed his staff to investigate allegations concerning any airline involvement with drug smuggling and, if necessary, to institute proceedings to suspend or revoke service.
'Today, we are putting all airlines on notice that we will take tough action to ensure airlines are taking all steps necessary to guarantee they do not become conduits for the drug trade,' the CAB chairman said.
'CAB licenses to operate in the United States will be at risk if airlines do not take appropriate precautions to ensure they and their employees do not participate in or assist any drug smuggling scheme.'
Although McKinnon did not specificy it in his speech, the warning applies to foreign as well as domestic airlines, a spokesman said.
The administration has strengthened its attack on illegal drugs in past months by increasing the number of federal investigators, customs inspectors and federal prosecutors and creating a special task force under the direction of Vice President George Bush.
Last March, McKinnon said, a customs inspector in Miami poked a screwdriver into a cardboard box labeled 'clothing' unloaded from an airliner arriving from Colombia and found it encrusted with white powder.
The routine check resulted in the largest cocaine seizure in U.S. history: 3,748 pounds with a street value of $1 billion.
'Illegal drugs can destroy the very fiber of life here in the United States and the CAB is not going to sit idly by,' McKinnon said.
McKinnon, who has been CAB chairman for about a year, reiterated his call for early 'sunset' of the CAB by pushing its expiration date from 1984 up to Oct. 1, 1983.
'What I have seen convinces me that deregulation will work,' he said. 'Competition is the lifeblood of the American free enterprise system. Those who are astute or efficient prosper. Those who are not stagnate or fail.'
McKinnon also rejected suggestions for some 'backsliding,' such as the recent petition by World Airways to set a price floor for tickets in order to prevent the bruising fare wars that have erupted periodically since the Airline Deregulation Act was passed in 1978.
Although some changes in the act might be necessary, he said, 'I believe overall the drafters of the deregulation act did a good job. It should notbe tampered with.'
McKinnon said CAB functions that will remain, probably handled by the Commerce or Justice department, include international air transportation, antitrust matters, postal rates and the essential air service program that guarantees a minimum level of air service to medium-sized and small communities.
The CAB chairman urged that responsibility for awarding international routes be given to a body that is independent, like the CAB.
'In this respect, we are more like judges than governmental bureaucrats,' he said. 'The decision-makers must be isolated from the executive branch.'