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U.S. House Speaker Pelosi discusses aid with airline CEOs: sources

David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski
·2-min read
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill

By David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke 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.

The call with Pelosi, House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio and the CEOs followed one with labor, where the speaker voiced support for additional aid, according to Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International President Sara Nelson.

"It's clear that this is a priority for the speaker," said Nelson, who was on the call. "Nobody is talking about why we need this. There's total agreement. The question is what's the vehicle."

Airlines and unions are pleading for an extra six months of aid under a bipartisan proposal for another $1.5 trillion in coronavirus relief.

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

Without an extension, United Airlines <UAL.O> and American Airlines <AAL.O> alone are set to furlough some 40,000 workers on Oct 1. American has also said it plans to end service to 15 small communities, a move that could be followed by other airlines.

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.

In a letter to Congress on Friday, United CEO Scott Kirby recognized the severe impact the virus is having on the entire economy and argued that assistance now can help lessen the long-term impact and speed a recovery.

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

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.

While lobbying Washington, airlines are also negotiating with employees to minimize thousands of job cuts that would happen without more federal funds.

A Democratic aid said earlier that CEOs from United, American, Delta Air Lines <DAL.N>, Southwest Airlines <LUV.N>, JetBlue Airways <JBLU.O>, Hawaiian Airlines <HA.O>, Alaska Airlines <ALK.N> and others were expected on the call with Pelosi.

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

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, David Gregorio and Daniel Wallis)