It may well be that new, low-fare airlines have no chance of competing against their bigger, mighty brethren.

It is not merely because the big guys have the power of their brand names, hub systems, frequent flyer programs, CRSs and so on. It's because they can -- and often do -- repel any attack on their systems by matching any service or fare advanced by the tiny airlines, even an absurd discount available for only 24 hours.

The megas' strategies have the little guys complaining in Congress and prompting the Transportation Department to investigate whether the giants unfairly compete by offering such things as overrides to agents. The freedom to compete, lest we forget, is what airline deregulation is all about.

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The question ultimately comes down to: Is there anything that a new airline can provide that one of the big guys can't or won't?

That's why a recent move by Detroit-based Pro Air to sign up guaranteed business from gigantic corporations is so fascinating and right-minded. The tiny airline that began with only two 737s a year ago (July 4) slapped Northwest in the face by signing a deal with GM and Chrysler, locking in current fares out of one of Northwest's major hubs, high-priced Detroit, for five years.

In exchange for the discount service, GM and Chrysler are giving to Pro Air an unstated monthly fee. To be sure, Pro Air only serves four routes, offering fares of $69 between Detroit City Airport and Indianapolis, and $79 between Detroit and New York (Newark), Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Chrysler expects to save up to $3 million and GM up to $6 million annually by using these services, moving 25 to 40 employees and top suppliers a day. In addition, the firms' employees, spouses and dependents under 21 are offered a leisure travel standby fare of $25 per flight.

U.S. corporations for years have proved to be no match for the big airlines. This move injects a bit of competition into the picture. It does not stop Pro Air, which has been shopping other companies in Detroit, from making other deals and growing in that fashion. It is the way to compete.

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