Airlines and airplane makers are fighting to keep confidential 10-year-old data on the values of U.S. plane purchases, fearing a government plan to disclose the information may...

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Airlines and airplane makers are fighting to keep confidential 10-year-old data on the values of U.S. plane purchases, fearing a government plan to disclose the information may make it harder to negotiate for the best price.

United Parcel Service, United Airlines, Boeing, Airbus and jet-engine maker General Electric oppose release of the data after 10 years of confidentiality, according to government filings and spokesmen interviews. Appraisers who estimate plane values for banks say disclosure would make investments in the equipment less risky and help stabilize the airline industry.

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The Transportation Department is taking comments on the disclosure issue until Monday and will make a decision early next year, said spokesman David Smallen.

The department has collected information on aircraft and engine sales since before deregulation in 1978. The government used the data to set ticket prices and now collects the information in its role overseeing the airline industry.

The department published the price data until United Airlines in 1993 requested confidentiality for a decade. A dozen carriers including American, Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines and Southwest Airlines later made similar requests. The department is now reconsidering a plan to release the 10-year-old data after the airlines objected.

“We do not want our competitors to have this information, nor do they want us to have theirs,” said United Parcel spokesman David Bolger.

But because airline purchase prices are kept private, appraisals done for aircraft financiers are “largely guesswork,” said Morten Beyer, chief executive of Morten Beyer & Agnew in Arlington, Va.

Appraisals of identical new planes vary as much as 20 percent, or tens of millions of dollars, and estimates for older models differ as much as 50 percent, Beyer said in a Department of Transportation filing. The confidentiality “has contributed to the instability of the U.S. airline industry,” Beyer said.

At an October industry conference in Miami, five appraisals of a 1990 Boeing 747-400 passenger plane ranged from $38 million to $54 million, said John Keitz, president of BK Associates, an appraisal firm in Manhasset, N.Y.

“That’s ludicrous,” Keitz said of the range, which was broad because “we don’t have any reliable source of recent sales information.” The disclosure of decade-old data would cut the range 25 percent, he said.

United Parcel, the world’s biggest express courier, told the Transportation Department it wants the data to remain secret for at least another decade. Foreign airlines would gain an advantage in negotiations for new airplanes because they don’t have to submit the information, the Atlanta-based company told the department.

United, the world’s second-largest airline, backs a two-year extension of confidentiality. The Chicago-based airline considers decade-old plane and engine values “highly sensitive and confidential,” David Olaussen, a United lawyer, told the department. Disclosure would show rivals “how far they could likely push Boeing or Airbus in negotiations,” he wrote.

Toulouse, France-based Airbus is “absolutely in agreement with airlines,” company spokesman Clay McConnell said. Boeing told the department that aircraft transactions “are among the most sensitive in the business world” and that disclosure would harm manufacturing interests.

The secrecy makes it more difficult to assess market volatility and risk, which discourages some investors from financing aircraft, said John Vitale, president of Chantilly, Va.-based AVITAS, the world’s largest aircraft-appraisal firm.

Airlines “may be shortsighted” in opposing the data release, Vitale said. Airlines’ reliance on public markets for financing “necessitates far more free flow of information, and I think releasing the data would facilitate that.”