Trump Calls For More Airline Aid As Talks Continue

American Airlines pilot checking tail before flight
An American Airlines pilot checks the aircraft's tail before flight.
Credit: American Airlines

WASHINGTON—U.S. President Donald Trump called on Congress to quickly approve a standalone bill to extend the U.S. federal government’s CARES Act Payroll Support Program (PSP) until March 2021.

The move injected fresh optimism across the airline industry just hours after negotiations toward a larger COVID-19 relief package were halted.

“The House & Senate should IMMEDIATELY Approve 25 Billion Dollars for Airline Payroll Support, & 135 Billion Dollars for Paycheck Protection Program for Small Business,” Trump wrote via Twitter late Oct. 6. “Both of these will be fully paid for with unused funds from the Cares Act. Have this money. I will sign now!”

The president’s comments came on the heels of a decision earlier that day to freeze talks with House Democrats toward a larger coronavirus relief package that would have also included airline aid. The New York Times reported Oct. 7 that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin discussed a standalone bill to fund the airlines in a meeting Wednesday morning. 

Pelosi had previously announced on Oct. 2 that more airline relief would be “imminent,” either delivered through a larger stimulus package—her stated preference—or a standalone bill, in the event that negotiations toward a comprehensive deal fail. Such bills have already been proposed in both chambers of Congress, although an effort by House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) to advance his bill by unanimous consent was defeated on the House Floor Oct. 2.

U.S. carriers initiated tens of thousands of furloughs following the PSP’s expiration on Sept. 30, with the lion’s share split between American Airlines and United Airlines. Should a PSP extension emerge at this late stage, those airlines would need to recall all their involuntarily furloughed staff to receive the aid, although workers who departed voluntarily would not be required to return. Executives at both American and United have already agreed to bring back the workers they let go should more aid arrive soon. 

The back-and-forth from the White House on more airline aid has whipsawed airline labor unions, which reacted with dismay on Oct. 6 to President Trump’s decision to freeze talks toward a comprehensive relief bill. A group of 12 airline labor unions and associations wrote to Congressional leaders on Oct. 7 urging them to move “as quickly as possible” on a standalone bill to extend the PSP. 

“During circumstances as dire and significant as these, an idea that enjoys resounding support from majorities in both parties and in both houses of Congress should not fail,” the groups—including the Air Line Pilots Association, Airlines for America and the National Air Carrier Association—wrote. “We call on leaders to resolve any procedural issues and proceed as quickly as possible to extend the PSP in time to preserve this extremely effective and efficient jobs and infrastructure program.” 

Ben Goldstein

Based in Boston, Ben covers advanced air mobility and is managing editor of Aviation Week Network’s AAM Report.