It could take at least 4 years for US airline industry to recover from pandemic
By Lori Aratani
Air travel in the United States is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels before 2024, the head of a leading airline lobbying group said Thursday.
Nicholas Calio, chief executive of Airlines for America, said that despite aggressive cost-cutting measures and billions in government support, the industry is still struggling to survive amid the worst economic downturn in aviation history
"We're going to do everything we can to get people back on airplanes," Calio said in a virtual briefing with reporters. "But right now, we're fighting for survival."
Calio said the billions of dollars in support the government has offered airlines has been a lifeline and criticized those who've characterized the program as a "bailout."
"People who call that a bailout don't know what they're talking about," he said. "It was a simple pass-through to keep [employees] on board."
Under the payroll support program created as part of the Cares Act, passenger airlines and cargo carriers were eligible for more than $25-billion in grants and more than $25-billion in loans. Carriers that accepted the grant money had to agree to a number of conditions, including keeping front-line workers on the job through the end of September, when many expected the industry to recover.
But that hasn't happened and now tens of thousands of workers face the prospect of being furloughed at the end of this month. Earlier this week, United Airlines said it would have to furlough more than 16 000 workers if the program isn't extended. American has said 19 000 of its workers also face the possibility of being furloughed.
Unions have lobbied for a second round of federal support and in recent weeks have been joined by their employers.
"Losing those employees, not being able to keep them on will have an impact on the recovery," Calio said. "Our hope frankly is that there will be more aid coming from the government."
There is bipartisan support in Congress for an extension and the White House also has signalled it thinks the industry should receive more aid. But negotiations have been bogged down by other elements of a possible relief package.