March 31, 2020 / 1:18 PM / 2 months ago

U.S. backs minimum flights on airline routes in assistance review

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Department on Tuesday proposed that passenger airlines should be required to maintain minimum numbers of flights as a condition for receiving aid from the government’s $50 billion grant and loan fund.

FILE PHOTO: Delta Airlines planes and a British Airways plane (2nd L) are pictured at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, on the day Delta CEO Ed Bastian told employees he was cutting 40% of capacity in the coming months, the largest in the airline's history, in addition to pursuing aid, in SeaTac, Washington, U.S. March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Redmond/File Photo

The department said carriers that flew domestically between cities five days a week or more before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic would need to continue to provide at least one flight per day five times a week between the points.

Those routes with fewer flights would only need to be flown once per week. For cities where there are multiple airports, carriers could consolidate operations at a single airport.

The department said airlines could seek waivers for specific flights, saying that “even with these reduced service levels, it may not be practicable for covered carriers to serve all points previously served.”

The department said it was not approving “any coordination among air carriers that would violate the antitrust laws.”

The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) praised the order and encouraged the government “to take additional steps to cut redundant service that puts airline workers at unnecessary risk.”

U.S. air travel keeps plummeting. On Monday, just 154,000 people went through U.S. airport screening checkpoints, compared with 2.4 million on a normal day. Airlines are cutting tens of thousands of flights and millions of seats as travel restrictions, event cancellations and pandemic fears have led travelers to put off trips.

Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) said it was cancelling 1,700 flights a day in May, while JetBlue Airways Corp (JBLU.O) said it plans to reduce daily flights in and out of the four New York City-area airports where it operates by as much as 80% in April as part of wider schedule cuts due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Treasury has urged airlines seeking funding from the $25 billion cash grant program to apply by Friday. Airlines must propose financial instruments as compensation in their applications for the funds aimed at helping with payroll costs.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said taxpayers will be compensated for the grants.

AFA President Sara Nelson said on Tuesday that requiring airlines to put up warrants “will put 2 million workers in the unemployment lines.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Rosalba O'Brien

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