Treasury officials on Tuesday announced that five more airlines have signed letters of intent to accept government loans through the $2 trillion coronavirus economic relief package known as the Cares Act.
That brings to 10 the number of U.S. carriers that have signaled they will accept loans in addition to billions of dollars in government grants as they struggle to stay afloat amid the worst economic downturn in the industry's history.
“These airlines are among the companies most heavily affected by the disruptions to social and economic activity caused by the pandemic,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the airlines to finalize agreements and provide the airlines the ability to access these loans if they so choose.”
Under the Cares Act, airlines were eligible to receive more than $50 billion in grants and loans. The $25 billion grant program was focused on keeping pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and other front-line workers on the job. Another $4 billion in grants was made available to cargo carriers.
The Cares Act provided $46 billion in loans, with $25 billion available to airlines, certified repair stations and ticket agents. Companies that receive loans must follow conditions similar to those required under the grant program, including keeping employees on the payroll through the end of September, maintaining certain levels of service as far out as 2022, and limiting stock buybacks and executive compensation.
The grants and loans are seen a key to keeping the aviation industry going at a time when few people are flying. At least 17 carriers, including four U.S. carriers, have been forced to cease operations or restructure since March 1, according to data compiled by Airlines for America, a trade group for U.S. carriers.
For the week ending July 5, domestic passenger volume was down 71 percent and international volume was down 93 percent, according to A4A. That same week, domestic flights averaged 68 passengers, while international flights had an average of 77. The resurgence of the virus in many states, including California, Texas and Florida, probably will further depress air travel.
Still, even with the billions airlines have received, some workers are urging Congress to extend payroll support, fearful of massive layoffs once the Sept. 30 deadline passes for keeping workers on the job.
Tuesday's announcement did not include the loan amounts. Mnuchin said those details will be available 72 hours after final agreements are in place. However, executives at Southwest have previously said they intended to apply for a loan of nearly $1 billion, while United Airlines indicated it will seek about $4.5 billion under the program.
The five carriers that signed letters of intent this week already have received more than $13 billion through the grant program. Alaska and JetBlue received just under $1 billion in grants; Delta received $5.4 billion, Southwest $3.2 billion and United $4.9 billion. Under the conditions of the grant program, the airlines will have to pay back 30 percent of the grant amount and also issue warrants, which give the government a stake in each carrier.
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