Direct U.S.-Soviet Airline Service to Resume in 1986

Times Staff Writers

Direct commercial airline service between the United States and the Soviet Union will resume next year for the first time since President Reagan suspended flights after Poland imposed martial law in 1981, the Reagan Administration announced Friday.

An agreement to resume the flights was initialed in Moscow on Friday after months of negotiations, including intense discussions between U.S. and Soviet officials during the superpower summit in Geneva.

“President Reagan said he hoped his summit with General Secretary (Mikhail S.) Gorbachev would help bring the people of our nations together,” Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole said in a statement. “This agreement is an immediate step in that direction.”


Administration officials had hoped to complete the negotiations while Reagan and Gorbachev were still in Geneva, but a senior official told reporters at the White House that the civil aviation agreement “fell apart completely” on the final evening of the summit.

When negotiations on the resumption of air service snagged at the last minute Wednesday night, the official said, the Soviets “threatened to take other things off the table,” including Reagan’s proposed people-to-people cultural exchange.

“There was some eyeball-to-eyeball there” before a joint statement on the cultural exchange and other issues was worked out at 4 a.m. Thursday, the official said.

Officials said that the main stumbling block was economic, not diplomatic--a concern by Pan American World Airways, the U.S. carrier designated in the agreement, that it would lose money on renewed air service to the Soviet Union.

Under the agreement, Pan Am will be authorized to fly to Moscow and Leningrad, and the Soviet government airline Aeroflot will be allowed to serve New York and Washington. Each will make stops in European cities and have four round-trip flights per week.

Pan Am said it plans four flights a week to the Soviet Union starting April 27 and originating from various cities. Aeroflot has been allowed only diplomatic flights to Washington since its commercial air service was suspended on Dec. 29, 1981.

Pan Am halted its service to the Soviet Union in 1978. In December, 1979, after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan, the United States ordered a halt to Aeroflot’s service to New York. However, flights to Washington were allowed to continue.

Then, after the imposition of martial law by the Soviet-backed regime in Poland, the Reagan Administration ordered Aeroflot to end its Washington service.

The Aeroflot office in New York was ordered closed after the downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 by Soviet warplanes in 1983. Although commercial flights have not been allowed, Aeroflot has continued to have regular special flights for Soviet officials stationed at the United Nations and in Washington.

‘Torpedo’ Feared

According to the White House official, the snag over the aviation agreement threatened to torpedo the cultural agreement signed by Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze. “That was one of the realities--that the whole thing could have fallen apart,” he said.

He said Pan Am wanted some assurances that Soviet travel agencies would not route most of their domestic passengers through Aeroflot.

Although the details of the final arrangement were not revealed, Pan Am’s concerns apparently have been satisfied.

“We are confident that under the new agreement we will be able to operate the service on a sound economic basis,” Richman said. “We really see a surge in traffic to Eastern European countries. There is a lot of pent-up demand.”

‘Read Lenin Speeches’

U.S. officials expressed some irritation Friday that agreement on the routes had not been reached in Geneva, saying of the Soviet negotiators: “They drive you nuts. They read Lenin speeches and lecture you. And just when you’re snapping pencils and ready to head for the door, they’ll give you something.”

One official acknowledged that the pact has little diplomatic significance but quickly amended his comments to describe it as part of the “fresh start” that Reagan had sought in superpower relations.

“You need to walk before you run and crawl before you walk,” the official said. “It’s not arms control, but at least we’re talking.”