U.S. House Speaker Pelosi to confer with airline CEOs on aid: sources

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi will speak on Friday afternoon with the chief executives of the country’s top airlines, who are urging Congress to approve another $25 billion in assistance to keep tens of thousands of U.S. workers on the payroll past Sept. 30, sources said.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 18, 2020. REUTERS/Al Drago

Pelosi and House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio are expected to hold a 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT) call with the chief executives of United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines and others, a Democratic aide told Reuters.

The end of this month marks expiration of the $25 billion in federal payroll assistance that airlines received when the coronavirus first began spreading around the world.

Airlines and unions are pleading for a six-month extension as part of a bipartisan proposal for another $1.5 trillion in coronavirus relief. At the same time, airlines are negotiating with employees to minimize thousands of job cuts that are expected without another round of aid.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows met with major airline chief executives on Thursday. He said President Donald Trump is also open to a stand-alone measure for airlines, though congressional aides say that is unlikely to win support given aid requests from so many other struggling industries.

Pelosi has said cited airlines and restaurants as two industries that need additional help but said that could mean less for other parts of the coronavirus relief bill.

“We recognize the severe impact the virus is having on our entire economy and the need for support touches many other individuals, organizations and programs. Assistance now can help to lessen the long-term impact to the economy and ultimately speed recovery,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in a letter to Congress on Friday.

“The aviation industry is a critical driver of the larger economy,” he said in the letter, which was also signed by the leaders of five unions.

Up to 16,000 United jobs are at risk without aid, he said. American has said it plans to end service to 15 small communities without additional government assistance and furlough about 19,000 workers.

Air travel has plummeted over the last six months as the coronavirus pandemic has claimed nearly 196,000 American lives and prompted many to avoid airports and planes, seriously depressing airline revenues.

Congress also set aside another $25 billion in government loans for airlines, but many have opted not to tap that funding source.

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