DOT makes rules for airline aid more flexible

Responding to airlines’ objections, the Department of
Transportation eased service requirements for airlines that accept financial
assistance from the federal government.

Originally, the Cares Act required airlines receiving a
federal grant or loan to continue serving until Sept. 30 domestic destinations
they had been serving on March 1.

The rigidity of the proposal drew criticism from several
carriers, both small and large. Airlines noted in regulatory filings that they
routinely operate seasonal service to many destinations, making the requirement
impractical. 

In its final order on April 7, the DOT gave airlines more
flexibility. Airlines getting aid will have a choice of continuing to fly to
all domestic points they served during the last week of February or flying to
all domestic points they served during the first week of August 2019. 

The DOT also made it easier for smaller carriers to qualify
for federal aid, imposing less stringent minimum-service requirements than the
Big 4.

American, Delta, Southwest and United will be required to
serve any domestic destination that they had been serving more than 25 times
per week with at least five flights per week. Those carriers also must schedule
at least three weekly flights to markets they had been serving between five and
25 times per week. And they must schedule at least one weekly flight to
destinations they had been serving fewer than five times per week. 

The remainder of U.S. airlines will have to maintain at
least thrice-weekly service to domestic destinations they had been serving at
least five times per week. They also must schedule at least one weekly flight
to markets they had been serving fewer than five times per week.  

The smaller carriers won’t be burdened with the Big 4’s
requirement for destinations served more than 25 times per week. 

Under the Cares Act, U.S. passenger airlines are to receive
up to $25 billion in federal payroll grants and are eligible — along with
large travel agencies and aircraft maintenance businesses — for up to $25
billion in federal loans.

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