It could be argued that the last thing this country needs is another lobbying group cozying up to legislators and regulators in Washington, but we suspect that good things may come of a broad-based body coalescing to influence airline-competition policy issues.

Although details about the as-yet-unnamed alliance are sketchy, the group is said to include about a dozen representatives of travel agent, community and consumer interests, with only Woodside Travel Trust and ARTA on record as charter members. It remains to be seen whether the other participants turn out to be of equal stature. We hope they do.

With the House and Senate aviation committees poised to address a number of contentious industry issues and the Department of Transportation already wrestling with a docket full of petitions for redress, now is the time for a powerful and inclusive coalition to speak with one, clear voice in an effort to influence governmental policy.

Although the inchoate group will not focus on commission cuts and the like, a spokesman said a concerted effort to enhance the competitive environment in the airline business "will take care of the survival of travel agencies."

It can't hurt. Such a coordinated strategy ultimately will work to better the trade's bargaining position with its "ex-partners in travel," the airlines, but we think it would be better to address retailers' concerns head-on rather than obliquely.

After all, the viability of the travel agency community -- and the unbiased access to ticketing that agents provide -- goes directly to the issue of airline competition and consumer fairness.

That being the case, we will look to see that trade interests are well represented in the lobbying alliance.

ASTA, for one, has not been asked to join.

We hope it is -- and we hope it does.

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