Airlines in the US are preparing to recall tens of thousands of furloughed aviation employees back to their posts, as US law makers move to reveal a fresh $15 billion in payroll support for the industry.
Since the beginning of the global pandemic and the subsequent drop in overall demand for air travel, American Airlines and United Airlines have together furloughed more than 32,000 pilots, cabin crew, ground workers and engineers.
“We are already starting to work through the details of how we will bring back team members, but we’re not over the finish line yet,” American CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom said in a memo on Monday, which also urged Congress to pass the legislation quickly.
A United spokesman said the airline was also preparing to bring back furloughed employees once law makers officially approve the bill.
The House of Representatives and Senate were aiming to pass a bipartisan $900 billion coronavirus aid package before the end of the day, of which $45 billion is earmarked for the transportation sector, and $15 billion specifically for aviation.
“If passed into law quickly, we should be able to get everyone a paycheck on Christmas Eve,” American’s executives said.
Under the package, furloughed workers would be recalled and receive their full salaries until this second wave of government financial assistance runs out, on 31 March 2021. Salaries will be retroactively paid from 1 December 2020.
Otherwise, terms of the newly announced financial aid largely mirror the first round of financial assistance provided to the aviation sector, and will require larger airlines to repay 30 per cent of the payroll grants back over time, and offer the government warrants.
The aid comes with other caveats too, including the requirement for airlines to resume some routes that were halted after the first package expired in October, as well as seeing the Transportation Secretary given authority until 1 March 2022 to require flights to small and remote communities that airlines served before the pandemic.
Airlines are set to see the funds within 10 days of the government signing off on the legislation.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said the legislation will restore paychecks for over 100,000 flight attendants and other aviation workers who lost their jobs on 1 October.
The financial aid legislation is also expected to include details of changes to how the Federal Aviation Administration certifies new airplanes in light of the 737 MAX fiasco, however further details on this were not made immediately available.
The further financial assistance for aviation comes after five months of furious lobbying, both by unions and later by executives, all of whom argued that the industry desperately needed further help as travel demand continues to take a hit amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
US carriers continue to bleed around $180 million in cash every day, as passenger volumes continue to be down nearly 70 per cent compared to 2019, according to industry body Airlines for America.
The ongoing spread of COVID infections in the US continues to hinder its economic recovery, as the new daily infection rate continues to sit over 200,000.
The US has now reported more than 18 million cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with more than 320,000 deaths.