U.S. Senate bill set to give aviation sector up to $33 billion bailout - sources
By David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski
WASHINGTON/CHICAGO, March 25 (Reuters) - A compromise $2 trillion economic rescue package that will be voted on by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday is set to give passenger airlines about $25 billion in grants, and up to another $8 billion for cargo carriers and airport contractors like caterers, three people briefed on the negotiations said.
Reuters reportedon Tuesday that lawmakers were nearing agreement on a deal for cash grants for payroll and other airline employee costs, after airlines made a last-minute effort to convince lawmakers they needed the cash to prevent the layoff of tens of thousands of workers.
The aid package is expected to include a further $29 billion in loans for airlines, and the government could receive equity, warrants or other compensation as part of the rescue package. U.S. airports are set to receive $10 billion in grants under the agreement.
The final text is still being drafted but will include restrictions on stock buybacks, dividends and executive compensation.
Senate Republicans on Sunday rejected any grants for airlines and instead proposed $58 billion in loans for airlines. Major airlines sounded the alarm and emphasized in recent days that without grants, they had short-term plans to quickly furlough tens of thousands of workers as travel demand collapses amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday, the carriers promised not to lay off workers through Aug. 31 if they won grants.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants said on Twitter it was a "HUGE fight but we WON on this - We got the deal structured around maintaining payroll, no (involuntary) furloughs."
Airlines and airline unions won crucial support from U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who spoke to lawmakers and others in the administration about the crisis.
In a memo Chao had drafted that was seen by Reuters, she noted that airlines employ 750,000 U.S. workers. She was worried about a dramatic decline in the U.S. aviation sector that could reduce competition, and the potential loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, people briefed on the matter said.
"Without grant assistance, U.S. airlines have warned that they may be forced to furlough employees or declare bankruptcy," Chao's memo warned. "Without grants, airlines may be forced to choose bankruptcy over federal loans, if loan conditions are too inflexible."
Chao worked the phones late into the night talking to air carriers about what they needed to ensure they could maintain payrolls, said a person briefed on call.
The government will also provide significant funding to Amtrak and U.S. transit systems that have both seen ridership fall dramatically as states order tens of millions of Americans to stay home and avoid non-essential travel.
Boeing Co BA.N could also receive government loans or loan guarantees under the bill, but it was not clear if they would tap $17 billion in loan funding set aside for national security-related loans that were part of the Republican bill released on Sunday. Boeing had sought at least $60 billion in government loan guarantees for itself and the entire aerospace manufacturing sector.
(Reporting by David Shepardson, Tracy Rucinski and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bernadette Baum)
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