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Biden officially signs third US aviation aid package

written by Hannah Dowling | March 12, 2021
US President Joe Biden has signed a bill that will assist in keeping the aviation afloat until September 2021 (White House)

US President Joe Biden has officially signed the third COVID-19 relief bill that will protect thousands of jobs in the aviation industry for the next six months.

The bill includes an additional US$14 billion in wage assistance for airlines, as well as US$9 billion for airports and other adjacent businesses.

It serves as one part of a US$1.9 trillion COVID relief package to support the US economy, as the vaccine rollout continues throughout the country.

Both American Airlines and United Airlines have both now informed employees that they may ignore any notices of furlough that had been sent prior to the bill being finalised, with over 27,000 employees affected between them.

“If you have one of those WARN Act notices we sent out in February, tear it up,” Doug Parker, American’s chief executive, said in an Instagram video.

“There aren’t going to be any furloughs at American Airlines in April and, with vaccinations on the rise, hopefully never again.”

The airline industry has been hit hard by the COVID crisis, with passenger numbers hitting their lowest point in April 2020, to be down 96 per cent compared to the previous year.

However, with the news of the ongoing vaccine rollout well underway, the industry is gaining traction again.

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In fact, in the last week, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration, an average of around 1 million people per day have travelled through security checkpoints at airports.

US lawmakers approved the third round of financial assistance to the aviation industry in February, when the House of Representative Financial Services Committee voted 29-24 in favour of the bill.

Before then, airlines and industry groups had been advocating for additional financial support for many months, with major airlines American and United together informing thousands of workers that they are at risk of furlough when the current COVID government aid package expires on 31 March.

It follows news that airlines and industry groups are pushing the Biden administration to introduce a uniform approach to verifying COVID vaccination and testing status, in hopes of reinvigorating demand for air travel, reducing the need for the industry to rely on government assistance.

The global airline industry has spent a number of months testing and investing in ‘health passport’ technologies that would contain such verified health information, letting relevant authorities know instantly whether or not someone has been vaccinated or tested negative to COVID-19.

The push comes just days after the CDC released its guidance on new activities that fully-vaccinated people should feel free to engage in, such as socialising with other vaccinated people without masks or social distancing.

As such, the airline industry now hopes the US government will announce a standardised approach to verifying vaccination status, and have raised fears that not doing so will lead to confusion and greater impact on the recovery of the aviation industry.

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