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Aiding the Airlines

The outpouring of private charity after the Sept. 11 attacks has, in itself, helped lift the nation's gloom. It reflects an affirmative stance of "no more victims."

Among the biggest potential victims: many airline companies, which have experienced a steep drop in business. And those airlines whose planes were hijacked, American and United, face lawsuits from the tragedy.

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In its own act of charity, Congress voted on Friday to provide $15 billion in relief to this industry, which accounts for about 10 percent of the nation's economy. The aid includes $5 billion in cash grants for the losses. Another $10 billion is in the form of loan guarantees. There's also a fund promised to offset liability costs.

This largess to private companies, however, will need to be carried out carefully. The aid should be tied to losses caused by the attacks, not the ongoing economic slump or poor corporate decisions. That could be a tough call. Some critics note that workers laid off by the airlines got no help. Congress may address that later.

Helping the airlines, like assisting New York City to rebuild, is an obvious need. But what of other businesses - such as the insurance industry - which also were hit by this man-made disaster? Congress will need to draw a line in aiding only those sectors that are critical to the national economy.

For the airlines, dollars alone won't do that job. Enhancing security and winning back customers will also help return them to a smooth flight.