U.S. lawmakers set to back $15 billion in airline payroll assistance

FILE PHOTO: The Atlanta skyline is seen behind Delta Air Lines passenger planes on a runway where they are parked due to flight reductions made to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. March 21, 2020. Picture taken March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
FILE PHOTO: The Atlanta skyline is seen behind Delta Air Lines passenger planes on a runway where they are parked due to flight reductions made to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. March 21, 2020. Picture taken March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The bipartisan legislative deal expected to be unveiled by U.S. lawmakers on Sunday will grant U.S. airlines $15 billion in new payroll assistance that will allow them to return more than 32,000 furloughed workers to their payrolls through March 31, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters.

The legislative plan to provide about $900 billion in COVID-19 relief and fund the government is also expected to include $1 billion to passenger railroad Amtrak, $14 billion for public transit systems and $10 billion for state highways, the sources said.

It is also expected to include significant changes to how the Federal Aviation Administration certifies new airplanes following two fatal Boeing Co 737 MAX crashes that killed 346 people.

The aviation assistance comes after five months of furious lobbying – first by aviation unions and later by airline executives – who argued the industry desperately needed new government help as travel demand remains devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The $45 billion COVID-19 transportation package is also set to include $1.75 billion for airports and $200 million for airport concessionaires and $2 billion for the private motorcoach, school bus and ferry industries, according to two sources.

U.S. airlines furloughed more than 32,000 workers in October, after a six-month $25 billion bailout measure expired on Sept. 30.

Airline workers would be paid retroactive to Dec. 1 and airlines would have to resume flying some routes they stopped after the aid package expired, congressional aides briefed on the talks said earlier. Airline workers could not be furloughed through March 31 as a condition of the assistance.

In October, American Airlines furloughed 19,000 employees, while United Airlines furloughed more than 13,000.

American Airlines suspended flights to some smaller U.S. airports in October.

The new assistance program is expected to mirror the $25 billion program approved by Congress in March, which required larger airlines to repay 30% of the payroll grants over time and offer the government warrants. It is also expected to include minimum flight requirements.

U.S. carriers are losing $180 million in cash daily, with passenger volumes down 65% to 70% and cancellations rising, industry lobby Airlines for America said.

Congress in March approved a separate $25 billion in low-cost government loans for airlines and suspended some aviation excise taxes through Dec. 31.

Reporting by David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall, Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney

Source: Reuters