This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.
As the expiration of the Payroll Support Program (PSP) for air carriers at the end of this month creeps ever closer, two key U.S. Senate leaders have moved to continue the program at least through March 2021. Senate Commerce Committee chairman Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) and Appropriations Committee chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Monday jointly introduced the Air Carrier Worker Support Extension Act of 2020 to extend the program for the next six months with $28 billion in funding that encompasses both new appropriations and unspent CARES Act money.
The bill, S.4634, would include protections to ensure the funding is spent as intended and includes a measure aligning airline payroll expense calculations for smaller air carriers to the exact standards and criteria of large carriers.
“The CARES Act successfully saved thousands of jobs that support the airline industry and provided these businesses with some breathing space after the drastic drop in air travel caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Wicker. “However, the market has not turned around as much as we had hoped, and additional relief is needed to prevent more than 60,000 aviation sector employees from losing their jobs beginning October 1.”
Wicker noted the legislation would require airlines to maintain their routes.
“The pandemic has had a devastating toll on the aviation industry, putting many American jobs at risk,” Collins said, estimating that the PSP protected as many as 700,000 industry jobs. “Our legislation to extend this lifeline would help frontline employees to continue to receive a paycheck and require airlines to maintain flights to every community they serve.”
The bill appears to enjoy wide support and its introduction by both the chairs of the Senate Commerce and Appropriations Committees signals strong cross-leadership support. NATA president and CEO Tim Obitts and Jonathon Freye, v-p of government and public affairs for the association, cautioned in a message to members that the bill remains a “heavy lift.”
“While the path forward for this bill remains unclear and faces a challenging political landscape as this session of Congress quickly comes to a close, Chairman Wicker’s staff shared his sense of urgency that the legislation be included in any other legislative vehicle that moves through the chamber ‘before October 1st,’” read the message. “The extension of the PSP will help many NATA members to retain their employees who provide essential services and serve as the gateway to many rural communities.”
Airlines for America also expressed support for the measure.