Airlines And Boeing To Receive Billions Through Aid Bill
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The $2 trillion relief package includes big chunks of money for commercial airlines and the airplane manufacturer Boeing. They are losing billions as air travel has nearly screeched to a halt. NPR's David Schaper examines what they're getting and what strings are attached.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The drop-off in air travel is astounding. The TSA screened just 239,000 people at airport security checkpoints yesterday, down almost 90% from the nearly 2.3 million screened on the same Wednesday last year. Airlines are canceling thousands of flights every day. The planes that are flying right now are, on average, just 10- to 20% full.
Veteran aviation writer Kathryn Creedy says the government needed to step up with support because airlines were drafting worst-case scenario plans, including a possible shutdown of passenger service.
KATHRYN CREEDY: It's questionable as to whether it's worth continuing to fly with one passenger or 10 passengers or 30 passengers on an aircraft that takes 160 passengers. It's great for social distancing, but it doesn't do much for the bottom line.
SCHAPER: The federal economic relief package provides $32 billion in direct payroll support to airlines, cargo carriers and contractors that provide baggage handling, catering, cleaning and other services. The legislation says that aid must exclusively be used for the continuation of payment of employee wages, salaries and benefits.
JOE DEPETE: That was absolutely essential from our perspective.
SCHAPER: That's Captain Joe DePete, who heads the Air Line Pilots Association, a union representing 63,000 pilots at 35 airlines. He says the money not only keeps pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and other workers out of unemployment lines, but will also help speed the recovery when air travel ramps back up.
DEPETE: We just don't hand the keys to the pilots and get them back in an airplane once, you know, we have a recovery there. We have specific training requirements and medical requirements.
SCHAPER: The bill also provides airlines and cargo carriers with another 29 billion in loans, but there are conditions. Those who accept the aid cannot buy back stock, pay dividends or executive bonuses for a year.
Charlie Leocha of the consumer group Travelers United supports the effort to help rescue the airlines.
CHARLIE LEOCHA: What I don't support is I don't support the fact that they are - made no changes whatsoever in terms of consumer protections.
SCHAPER: Things like requiring airlines to fully refund fares to passengers who cancel because they are sick. And it's not just the airlines getting aid - $17 billion being made available in loans to, quote - aerospace companies - "deemed critical to maintaining national security," which in essence means Boeing and its suppliers. Even with these grants and loans, it's likely additional help will be needed to stimulate any eventual recovery in commercial aviation.
David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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