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Airline lobbyist asks Congress to ease up on minimum flight requirements under the CARES Act

One congressman says taxpayers are getting the short end of the stick on the bailout

Photo (c) Karol Ciesluk - Getty Images
The flailing airline industry’s cause to come out of the COVID pandemic with its wings up got some much-needed championing on Wednesday.

The CEO and President of Airlines for America (A4A) -- a lobbying group which represents Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United -- appeared before a Senate hearing to speak about the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the commercial aviation industry. 

A4A’s Nicholas Calio wanted to make sure he got one important point across. He stated that federally-dictated minimums on the number of flights as part of the federal airline bailout are “unsustainable” for airlines while the pandemic is still in full swing and its passenger loads have taken a pounding.

“While carriers are certainly complying with the CARES Act requirement and (Department of Transportation) Show Cause Order requiring minimum service levels to U.S. communities, the cost associated with operating nearly empty flights to communities with little to no demand significantly exacerbates air carrier liquidity,” Calio said in a prepared statement. 

“We would ask both this Committee and the Administration to seek solutions to address the challenges posed by this unsustainable requirement. Make no mistake, as the duration of this pandemic lingers, the reasonability and practicality of this requirement significantly diminishes. Carriers and communities alike are going to have to come together and acknowledge the footprint and frequency of service in 2019 cannot convey to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic reality,” he said.

The bottom line for the airline industry

Airlines have greatly cut back on the number of flights since the virus became headline news -- even going to the extreme of canceling flights and sardining passengers on another flight to be more efficient. 

Still, the bottom line for the airline industry is, in fact, the bottom line. Until the industry can regroup from being 90 percent down thanks to COVID-19, Calio bluntly told the Committee that “the cost associated with operating nearly empty flights to communities with little to no demand significantly exacerbates air carrier liquidity.”

“Screwing the taxpayers”

Lawmakers and airline operators are anything but on the same page on this situation. Committee member Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said the people he represents have grumbled that airlines are handing out vouchers, not cash refunds like they’re supposed to when they up and cancel a flight. 

“In effect, you are -- forgive me -- screwing the very taxpayers whose money is going into your pockets” through the $50 billion in federal aid set aside for passenger airlines in the CARES Act, Blumenthal said.

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