U.S. lawmakers back $15 billion in airline payroll assistance

A bipartisan legislative deal unveiled by U.S. lawmakers on Sunday will grant U.S. airlines $15 billion in new payroll assistance that will allow them to return more than 32,000 furloughed workers to payrolls through March 31, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters.

The legislative plan to provide about $900 billion in COVID-19 relief and fund the government will, if approved by Congress, include $1 billion to passenger railroad Amtrak, $14 billion for public transit systems and $10 billion for state highways, a senior Democratic aide confirmed to Reuters, which first reported the expected amounts.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on Sunday the measure provided $45 billion in total for transportation.

It is also expected to include significant changes to how the Federal Aviation Administration certifies new airplanes following two Boeing 737 MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people, three congressional aides said, but there were no specific details available on Sunday.

The aviation assistance comes after five months of furious lobbying - first by aviation unions and later by airline executives - who argued the industry desperately needed new government help as travel demand remains devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Delta Air Lines passenger planes on a runway in Chicago, U.S. /VCG

Delta Air Lines passenger planes on a runway in Chicago, U.S. /VCG

The $45 billion COVID-19 transportation package is set to include $1.75 billion for airports and $200 million for airport concessionaires and $2 billion for the private motorcoach, school bus and ferry industries, officials said.

U.S. airlines furloughed more than 32,000 workers in October, after a six-month $25 billion bailout measure expired on September 30.

Airline workers would be paid retroactive to December 1 and airlines would have to resume flying some routes they stopped after the aid package expired, congressional aides briefed on the talks said earlier. Airline workers could not be furloughed through March 31 as a condition of the assistance.

In October, American Airlines furloughed 19,000 employees, while United Airlines furloughed more than 13,000.

American Airlines suspended flights to some smaller U.S. airports in October.

The new assistance program is expected to mirror the $25 billion program approved by Congress in March, which required larger airlines to repay 30 percent of the payroll grants over time and offer the government warrants. It is also expected to include minimum flight requirements.

U.S. carriers are losing $180 million in cash daily, with passenger volumes down 65 percent to 70 percent and cancellations rising, industry lobby Airlines for America said.

Congress in March approved a separate $25 billion in low-cost government loans for airlines and suspended some aviation excise taxes through December 31.

Source(s): Reuters

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