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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 12, 1996
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                           AND VICE PRESIDENT   

Roosevelt Room

9:35 A.M. EST

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to go first here and then present the President. I want to acknowledge the presence of these chief executive officers of the airline industry, and I want to acknowledge all of them by name, but I want to thank all of them and I want to acknowledge Carol Hallett, the spokesperson for their air transport association.

I would also like to acknowledge individuals on President Clinton's team who have been critical to our efforts to improve aviation safety: Secretary Federico Pena, who as Secretary of Transportation has worked tirelessly to improve safety for all travelers; Jim Hall, the very able and dedicated leader and Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board; Linda Hall Daschle, the extremely capable Acting Administrator of the FAA, and also the author of a very significant report that set us on the course toward improvement.

I want to thank all of them for their great work. And let me also acknowledge Dr. Gerald Kauvar, who is the staff director of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. The staff of this commission has worked tirelessly. I also want to acknowledge Elaine Kamarck, who is on my reinvention staff who has worked very closely with them.

Nancy McFadden, the General Counsel of DOT, is also here, and Kitty Higgins, Cabinet Secretary.

This morning, on behalf of the President, I met with the CEOs of most of our nation's major airlines. We came together to talk at some length about how, working together, we can ensure that air travel will be as safe as possible for Americans as we move into the next century.

As you well know, President Clinton has been dedicated to solving the problems that have received so much attention and need to be addressed. He asked me to chair a commission to address those issues. We've had a number of meetings and visits around the country. We've issued one formal report; we'll have another one in February. We've been looking closely at aviation security, safety, and the air traffic control system, and we're examining means of improving performance in each of those areas.

This morning I am pleased to announce that following our meeting, these airlines have formally agreed to voluntarily install fire detection systems in the cargo holds of some 3,700 airlines that carry the vast majority of Americans flying each year.

In 1988, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that commercial passenger planes be equipped with both fire detection and suppression equipment. However, implementation has been bogged down ever since.

Last month, the FAA announced its plan to move ahead with a rule to implement the NTSB recommendations. With this announcement today, the airlines, which represent most of the airlines -- and let me emphasize that there are a few that don't belong to this association, the commuter airlines, for example, a few others, and I call on them -- we call on them to join in this industry-wide commitment. But with this announcement, virtually all of the airlines are saying that they're not going to wait for the regulatory process to catch up, they're moving forward on their own. They're jumping over the regulatory and the financial hurdles. And the winners will be the millions of Americans who fly on these planes.

With this commitment, these airlines will begin installing these fire detectors in 1997. This voluntary action is an important step on the path to improved safety for airline passengers. It's important not just because it will mean improved fire detection, but also because it signals the beginning of a change in how government and this industry work together to achieve safety goals.

We're working to craft a relationship that will allow us to implement safety improvements more quickly and at less cost, and with a lot of the unnecessary adversarial conflict that for too long has characterized the government-industry relationship. And we hope to continue in that spirit as we work to ensure full fire protection systems for all aircraft.

So, on behalf of the President, I want to congratulate these CEOs for their leadership in the industry, for their commitment to protect the public, and for their willingness to really come together to create this new partnership for safety. We look forward to more progress in this and in other areas.

Now, none of this would have come about except for President Clinton insisting that we focus on this as a priority for the United States of America. It's now my pleasure to present the President. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Good morning. I will be very brief, but I do want to make a couple of remarks. I want to thank the Vice President, first of all, and the people who have worked with him for their unflagging efforts to improve airline safety. I want to thank Secretary Pena and Mr. Hall and Ms. Daschle and the other members of the administration who have worked on this.

I want to especially thank the airline executives who are here for announcing their plan to ensure that their U.S. carriers have smoke detectors in their cargo holds whenever they leave the ground. This is further proof of what we can achieve when we work together.

This is a critical part of our long-range plan to make Americans more secure and to make sure our skies are safer. After the TWA disaster, the Vice President's commission worked around the clock to develop an action plan for aviation safety. Just a month later, we made nearly every one of their recommendations the law of the land: state-of-the-art bomb detectors in our major airports; a dramatic increase in FBI agents assigned to counterterrorism efforts; background checks and FBI fingerprint checks for airport and airline employees; improved mail and cargo inspection and more bomb-sniffing dogs.

I said in October that we cannot make the world risk-free, but we can reduce the risks we face. By putting smoke detectors in every cargo hold of these carriers we take another step to make our people and our skies safer.

And again, let me say I congratulate especially the carriers who are here. I thank them for their leadership and for working with us and I thank the members of the administration, beginning with the Vice President.

Thank you very much.

Q Mr. President, is Tony Lake in trouble, and will you go to the mat for him?

THE PRESIDENT: No, and yes. (Laughter.)

Q You don't think he has any problem in terms of the --

THE PRESIDENT: No. Well, we reviewed that and I think -- I believe the essential facts of the matter have been reported in the press. And the Counsel's Office and others reviewed the facts as they have been presented -- I believe they have been accurately presented in the press, although I did not personally read the story this morning -- and we believe that it is not a disqualification.

Q Mr. President, your embrace of the political center seems to concern many traditionally liberal Democrats who are afraid that this priority of balancing the budget is going to hurt poor people. Yesterday the Chairman of the Black Caucus, Representative Donald Payne, was expressing this kind of concern. How do you guarantee that fuel for poor people, subsidies, that housing subsidies, that your determination to balance the budget is not going to come on the backs of the poor?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's what we're working through right now. We've been working through that for the last four years. Every year in the last four years we've had to send a budget up to the Hill and we've worked on a budget that would continue to reduce the deficit in a way that would be fair to all Americans.

And I would just say, first of all, there's some evidence here: After four years we've cut the deficit by 60 percent, there are 2.1 million fewer people on welfare, and about a million fewer children in poverty than there were the day I took office. Poverty had the biggest drop among children in 1995 in 20 years. We have the lowest poverty rate among elderly people and African Americans since the statistics have been kept.

A big part of that is a strong economy. If you want to reduce poverty, you've got to have more jobs being created, you've got to have the economy being stronger.

But, secondly, we have to be exceedingly sensitive -- I don't want to play games here -- we have to be exceedingly sensitive to what policy judgments are made so that we don't do the rest of the work of balancing the budget on the backs of poor children especially, who are essentially defenseless in protecting themselves. We have to be very, very sensitive from here on in. And I assure you we're working on that.

And Congressman Payne, whom I know well and respect very much, I'm sure will be vigorously pressing the interests that he discussed yesterday in all of our budget talks together. But we're working hard on this budget to avoid that.

Q Mr. President, with the fire detection systems that you're going to have in these planes, is it not far enough? Don't you need suppression, as well, to put out fires when you're at 10,000 feet, simply knowing about --

THE PRESIDENT: Would you like to answer that?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I would. There are fire suppression systems installed on all new airlines. And it is true that the original NTSB recommendation was for both detectors and suppression equipment. The difficulties in implementing the retro-fit for suppression systems is significantly greater than the difficulty with detector systems. But the industry has agreed to work with us vigorously to find solutions for this challenge and we're pressing forward on it.

Q How much will it cost the industry?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: A lot. About $400 million. And it is a significant commitment that they're making. No one should misunderstand the fact that it was not easy for these companies to make the decision that they are announcing here today. This is a significant step forward. In the absence of a rule, they're doing it voluntarily, and every company here has joined together. And so it's an important step.

Q Are airline tickets up?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Not because of this.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you.

THE PRESS: Thanks.

END 9:48 A.M. EST