Trump says he will help struggling U.S. airlines

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U.S. President Donald Trump responds to questions from members of the news media during a news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday said his administration would help U.S. airlines facing sharp downturns in passenger traffic as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, but gave no details.

“We’ll be helping the airlines. You have to help the airlines,” Trump told reporters before departing on a visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin. “Airlines are a tough business in good times.”

Airline shares jumped on Trump’s comments but then gave up some gains. American Airlines was up 1.5%, while United Airlines was up 0.5% in early afternoon trading.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows last week said Trump was weighing executive action to avoid massive layoffs at airlines if Congress fails to agree on a fresh economic stimulus package.

U.S. passenger airlines are still collectively losing more than $5 billion a month as 30% of airplanes remain parked. Passenger travel demand remains down about 70% and, on average, planes are half-full.

Last week, American Airlines said its workforce would shrink by 40,000, including 19,000 involuntary cuts, in October unless the government extends aid for airline employee payrolls.

United said Thursday it will need to cut 2,850 pilot jobs between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30 if the government does not extend assistance.

Airlines received $25 billion in U.S. government stimulus funds in March meant to cover payrolls and protect jobs through September. Congress also approved another $25 billion in loans for airlines.

As bailout money runs out without a travel recovery in sight, airlines and unions have lobbied Washington for another $25 billion. However, talks have stalled as Congress has struggled to reach agreement on a broader coronavirus assistance package.

American said last month it would suspend flights to 15 small U.S. cities in October without more federal aid.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and David Shepardson, writing by Andrea Shalal, editing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)

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