Airlines receiving aid under the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act must maintain ‘scheduled air transportation service as the Secretary deems necessary to ensure services to any point served by that air carrier before March 1, 2020,’ according to an announcement from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Any carrier who had more than ten percent of total domestic industry in 2019 must continue a minimum number of flights in order to qualify for federal aid. Airlines that sent twenty-five flights per week to a location prior to March 1 must maintain at least five flights per week to that same location. Carriers that sent between five and twenty five flights per week to a location must now provide at least three flights per week, and airlines that sent under five flights per week to a location must now provide at least one flight per week.
Carriers holding less than ten percent of market share who flew to a location five or more times per week in 2019 will only need to provide three weekly flights. They will only need to charter one flight per week to locations they served fewer than five times in a seven day period.
Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit Airlines, and United Airlines have already applied for federal aid. JetBlue has also applied for an exemption to service obligations.
Some airlines are consolidating service to a single airport within a region, which is permitted by the DOT. Spirit Airlines, for example, will suspend service to Latrobe, PA, and instead send all flights to nearby Pittsburgh. Most of the suspended service will apply to airports with less than one million passengers annually, however some carriers have suspended service to larger airports as well.
Cargo carriers are also eligible for aid under the CARES Act, but will not be subject to service obligations, in order to facilitate flexibility.
The airline industry is reeling from the effects of the coronavirus. According to a TSA report, 90,510 passengers traveled by air on March 12, 2020 – a mere 4% of travelers from one year ago on that date. Air carriers are poised to lose up to $250 billion in 2020, the International Air Transportation Association warns. The organization predicts that potentially half of global airlines could shutter without aid. Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest, says that the lack of travel has a ‘9/11 feel’ to it.
The DOT order will last until September 30, 2020.