U.S. airports need $10 billion or more in additional government aid --group

by Reuters
Wednesday, 6 May 2020 20:04 GMT

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By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON, May 6 (Reuters) - U.S. airports will need at least another $10 billion in government assistance as they face mounting losses from the near-collapse of air travel due to the coronavirus pandemic, a major airport group told a U.S. Senate committee Wednesday.

Todd Hauptli, who heads the American Association of Airport Executives, noted that Congress previously gave airports $10 billion in emergency aid. In addition to at least another $10 billion for passenger airports, "Congress must provide billions of dollars in financial support for other parts of the aviation ecosystem" and greater support for smaller general aviation airports and other airport partners, he said.

"We're going to have to get past the sticker shock and get to yes," Hauptli said.

Separately, a major airline trade group said the industry is not seeking additional government assistance and airlines hope not to have to return to Congress seeking more money later this year.

U.S. airports collectively held $100 billion in debt at the end of 2018 and some previously warned they might not be able to make debt payments without the initial $10 billion.

U.S. passenger air travel is down 95% and airlines have canceled 80% or more of flights into June.

Congress has already approved more than $50 billion in emergency assistance for other parts of the U.S. transit network harmed by the travel decline, including $25 billion for mass transit agencies, $25 billion in cash grants for U.S. airlines, $1 billion for passenger railroad Amtrak and the $10 billion for airports.

Airlines are burning at least $10 billion a month, the head of a trade group representing American Airlines Group Inc , United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and others said.

Nicholas Calio, president and chief executive of Airlines for America, told the panel that if the industry was forced to refund too many tickets it could lead to bankruptcies.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, criticized airlines for not disclosing the ability of consumers to get refunds for some flights and instead encouraging them to take credits.

"You are screwing the very taxpayers whose money is going into your pocket," Blumenthal said. "You are killing the goose that lays the golden egg."

Calio said airlines do not want to return to Congress and ask for more money later this year.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; additional reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Leslie Adler)

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