Trump to Meet Airline Leaders Over Weekend With Aid Lagging

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said he’ll meet this weekend with executives in the airline industry who’ve been pressing for promised aid to come more quickly as their companies’ revenue plummets due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have a great plan for the airlines -- got to keep the airlines going,” Trump said Friday during a White House news conference.

Trump also said he would speak to the leaders of plane-maker Boeing Co. “We can’t let anything happen to Boeing,” he said. Trump said Boeing hasn’t asked for aid yet, but he expects it will.

Boeing has an ongoing dialog with the administration, although no specific meeting is planned this weekend, a company official said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who said he’d provide details to carriers on how to access billions of dollars in loans and grants this weekend, is holding calls with airline chief executives, two people familiar with the situation said. The people asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to discuss the process.

United Airlines Holdings Inc. said it received a proposed aid package from the Treasury Department on Friday, without providing specifics. At least one other carrier also received a plan Friday, people familiar with the matter said.

“We can confirm we heard back from the Treasury Department regarding the application we submitted for government support, and we are currently reviewing the details of their proposal,” said Frank Benenati, a spokesman for the airline.

Desperate Bid

The Trump administration faces rising pressure from lawmakers and the airline industry to move faster with payroll assistance. So far, U.S. airlines’ desperate bid for billions in government rescue cash is being frustrated by demands that the companies provide more detailed financial information.

Some airlines had begun expressing concern this week that the process was dragging and had failed to meet a deadline they believed was imposed by Congress that the money should begin to flow by April 6.

That triggered a wave of lobbying by lawmakers and industry officials pushing for swifter action.

Trump made it clear in a meeting with Mnuchin and U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao Thursday evening that aid for payroll assistance needed to go out as soon as possible, several people familiar with the discussions said.

Forestalling Layoffs

Some funds may begin to reach carriers as soon as Monday, said one person. That timing was a goal, though, and Treasury didn’t guarantee that it would be able to meet it.

The more than $2 trillion federal stimulus package includes payroll grants of $25 billion for passenger airlines, $4 billion for cargo haulers and $3 billion for airline contractors, plus another $29 billion in loans for passenger and cargo carriers and $10 billion in grants to airports.

The primary concern for large and small airlines has been getting access to the grants quickly to cover salaries and benefits. Under the law, airlines that get such grants must promise not to lay off workers through Sept. 30.

It’s not clear yet whether the carriers will have to put up some kind of equity or collateral in return for the grants. The law allows Treasury to require some kind of stake from airlines, but it’s not required, and prominent lawmakers including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have said Congress didn’t intend to require it.

The recent steady and sustained fall in U.S. commercial airline travel has seen passenger numbers fall 95% below levels a year ago -- an outcome that hasn’t been seen since the dawn of the jet age in the early 1960s.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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