Two leading Republican senators introduced legislation yesterday to give airlines and ground workers another $28.8 billion in funds. The decision comes as tens of thousands of workers are set to be laid off at the beginning of October.
The proposal comes as airlines worldwide continue to struggle with a massive downturn in passenger numbers brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic. While there is broad support in Congress for giving more aid to American carriers, the money will be tied to an overall coronavirus package that lawmakers are struggling to agree upon.
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The bill would protect airline workers
The sponsors of the aid package for the airline’s Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), said their bill would protect airline workers until the end of March. The bill would also help protect continued services to communities across the nation.
This year, when Congress passed the CARES Act, airlines were singled out to receive billions of dollars in aid. Along with the money came the condition that carriers agreed not to cut their staffing levels until October 1. This was the date in which lawmakers determined that the devastation brought on by COVID-19 would have subsided.
COVID-19 has not gone away
In a statement carried by the Washington Post, Senator Wicker is reported as saying,
“The CARES Act successfully saved thousands of jobs that support the airline industry and provided these businesses with some breathing space after the drastic drop in air travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“However, the market has not turned around as much as we had hoped, and additional relief is needed.”
Despite the gradual recovery in air travel, the number of people flying is still down, with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reporting that 848,000 people traveled last Sunday. On the same day last year, 2.5 million passengers passed through TSA screening checkpoints.
When it became clear over the summer that the coronavirus was not going away, airlines drew up plans to lay off thousands of employees once the federal money stopped. As things stand right now, some 40,000 people are set to lose their jobs in less than two weeks. In response to this, labor unions have launched campaigns for more government support. Together with the union campaigns, airline bosses visited Washington last week to plead for more financial help.
Following a meeting, last week with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker said it wasn’t right that his employees should lose their jobs after keeping cargo and passengers flying over the summer.
“The only problem we have is we don’t have a vehicle for getting it done,” Parker said.
The bill is tied to an overall stimulus package
While a new aid bill could be that vehicle, there is very little time to get it done before the deadline expires on October 1. What the new bill proposes is to continue helping the airlines for a further six months. Like the CARES Act, airlines would have to keep flying to destinations that they might have otherwise dropped and are not permitted to pay stock dividends or make capital distributions.
Currently, the government is deadlocked over a second stimulus package, with both the Republicans and Democrats calling for compromise. With the election looming in just a couple of months, it could go down to the wire, but as things stand right now, it looks very much like it could take longer than October 1 to agree on another stimulus package.
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