The new US administration under Joe Biden has a difficult task at hand: to help the aviation industry recover from the COVID-19 pandemic while keeping a well-established health protocol to protect the travelers from the disease, and allowing the resumption of international connectivity.
According to several members of the industry, the US must focus on some key initiatives. These include extending the payroll support program; taking the lead on international recovery; collaborating with other countries to allow the lift of international restrictions; giving a push to new technologies like electric aircraft and sustainable aviation fuels (SAF); and keeping the industry employed.
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Collaboration is essential
Currently, the world governments have been reluctant to work as a group to tackle the current pandemic. The aviation and tourism industries have paid a heavy toll because of this, due to unpredictable and frequent policy changes.
Travel restrictions vary from country to country and even from province to province. In the US, for instance, there was a lack of consistent organization to tackle the pandemic with the previous administration.
Sharon Pinkerton, Senior Vice President, Legislative and Regulatory Policy for Airlines for America (A4A), said that the new US administration has taken the first steps towards changing this. She said that the federal administration is taking the lead on tackling the COVID-19 pandemic instead of leaving everything to each State. For example, the US now requires international travelers to arrive with negative COVID-19 tests.
Additionally, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said,
“The United States has traditionally been a leader in international aviation, coordinating with other countries our procedures to make sure that we’re limiting that risk and everyone are participating in the same way; if we can manage that, then I think that we can open our borders. We’ve shown throughout aviation that we can work with other countries in this way to have a standardized process across aviation that keeps us safe.”
The closest big challenge: payroll
The COVID-19 pandemic has crippled the aviation industry, leading to billions in losses, fewer routes, and unemployment. However, the US Government has been one of the more proactive world governments, helping the aviation industry to survive through payroll support.
Now, the payroll program is set to expire on March 31. Currently, the newly installed Biden administration is deciding whether to extend the airline support until October. If it is approved, it will allow carriers to keep thousands of people employed that otherwise would already be furloughed. We’re talking about a further US$14 billion that would support airlines’ payrolls.
If it’s not granted, many airlines will have to furlough staff. Last week, American Airlines sent WARN letters to approximately 13,000 US-based workers. United Airlines might also furlough up to 14,000 employees.
Sara Nelson said about the payroll support program,
“The program is really an alternative to unemployment. It’s much like the programs you’ve seen in Europe, where companies are given money from the government to keep people on the payroll. It’s a really good solution because, in a crisis, you want to have as many simple solutions as possible. We don’t want to destroy good jobs in the presence of this pandemic.”
What other tasks does the US need to prioritize?
The COVID-19 pandemic is providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, though. Now, the aviation industry can focus more than ever on the development of new technologies. The development of new, cleaner aircraft and sustainable aviation fuels must be a priority going forward.
Michael Whitaker, chief policy officer at Hyundai Urban Air Mobility, said about this,
“In transportation, there are so many ways you can spend money, from bike paths to electric energy. I think it’s really an opportunity to invest in a more environmentally conscious way that has been done in the past. That includes stimulating electric vehicles of all types. It’s a pretty exciting time.”
Do you think the new US Administration is going in the right direction to help the aviation industry recover? Let us know in the comments.