Regional Airports May Lose Services as Government Airline Aid Ends

The skies may become a bit gloomier for airlines as they begin to explore paths forward after government aid expires on Oct. 1.

Airlines have been unsuccessful in expanding the $25 billion aid package given to them by Congress in March beyond the six-month mark. Airports have proven even more unsuccessful in earning the support of Congress. Both were absent from the congressional negotiations that fell through earlier in September.

Southwest Airlines was notable for being the first airline to refuse federal loans, objecting to its terms. The company reported it has enough in reserves to last for two years.

As government aid expires on Oct. 1, so do restrictions on laying off workers. Both American Airlines and United Airlines have braced themselves for thousands of job losses beyond the many workers on extended, voluntary leave or who have already left the company.

Meanwhile, the pandemic relief law that prevents airlines from ending service to smaller airports expires on Sept. 30.

Airlines began service cuts to many of these airports in May, such as Palm Springs, California and Ogdensburg, New York.

Some, such as the Wall Street Journal, have expected that airlines will not only shift their focus to larger cities but will also consolidate service with smaller air carriers to cut costs. 

Early in September, Envoy Air, owned by American Airlines, announced it was ending service to New York area airports, speeding up the airline’s plan to end smaller jet service from regional airports to larger cities. Before the announcement, American announced a partnership with JetBlue to fill the gap left by Envoy.

The economic impact of losing small regional airports could be quite dire.

For instance, in Dubuque, Iowa, a 2009 economic impact study found that the airport contributed $34 million to the metropolitan area’s $4.3 billion economy.

Dubuque Regional Airport director Todd Dalsing, speaking to Roll Call, explained that when companies relocate, they usually have “a checklist of five things” that they’re looking for in a new place.

“Typically one of the five things is, does the city have commercial air service? If they have commercial air service, they take that city off the list of potential places to start a business,” said Dalsing.

Democrats and Republicans have expressed support for extending the requirement to service regional airports.

In August, sixteen Republicans sent a letter to Senate leadership urging them to keep the requirement. A letter requesting further airline payroll support received signatures from 223 lawmakers, 28 Republicans, and 195 Democrats in July.

Nevertheless, with coronavirus negotiations falling apart, there are no clear skies for smaller, regional airports and the travelers who use them.

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