The pandemic relief bill that President Biden signed Thursday afternoon will protect tens of thousands of jobs in the aviation industry, which is likely to struggle for some time even as vaccinations accelerate.
After Congress this week approved the legislation, which includes $14 billion for airlines and an additional $9 billion for airports and other businesses, American Airlines and United Airlines told 27,000 employees that they could ignore the furlough notices they received earlier this year. The airlines had been preparing to cut those jobs when an earlier round of federal aid expired at the end of this month. The new bill extends that assistance for another six months.
“Thousands of frontline workers will now receive paychecks and health care through September, which is especially critical while vaccine distribution continues to ramp up,” United’s chief executive, Scott Kirby, said in a statement on social media.
The relief package, which Mr. Biden has said is needed to protect the economy and workers and many Republican lawmakers have criticized as excessive, is the third to provide funding to keep airline workers employed since the pandemic began. Last March, Congress provided passenger airlines $25 billion in loans and another $25 billion in payroll grants. It renewed the payroll funding in December with another $15 billion and again this week.
The bill passed this week also sets aside $1 billion for aviation contractors and $8 billion for airports to help them operate normally, limit the spread of the virus and pay workers and service their debts. In exchange for the aid, airports, contractors and airlines are banned from large layoffs through September.
The aviation and travel industry has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. A year ago, the number of people flying started to plummet as the virus spread widely and government officials restricted or discouraged travel. By early April, the number of people flying every day had dropped 96 percent compared with a year earlier.
Travel has recovered somewhat since then. An average of about a million people have been screened at airport security checkpoints each day over the past week, just over half as many as were screened over the same period in 2019, according to Transportation Security Administration data.
Still, airlines are losing $150 million a day on average, according to Airlines for America, an association that represents American, United and the other major carriers. The widespread distribution of vaccines has given the industry hope for a rebound, but airlines are expected to continue to lose money through the summer, and most industry analysts and executives don’t expect travel to recover to 2019 levels until 2023 or 2024.