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CARES Act funding for airlines expires soon; what that might mean for Alaska

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.(Courtesy Alaska Airlines)
Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 7:58 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 24, 2020 at 8:12 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - About $25 billion of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding was put aside for the airlines over six months ago to keep them in the air during the pandemic. In about a week, those funds are set to expire on Sept. 30. Now there’s lobbying going on in Washington to get Congress to make an extension.

After a virtual meeting with the State Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 22, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young expressed their support for such an extension because of the importance of aviation to the state.

Murkowski summed up her thoughts pretty plainly when she said, “If we can’t fly around, then we don’t have an economy.”

Based on what Young said during that meeting, some airlines have different levels of financial need right now.

“Some airlines say they don’t need it. They’re packing the planes,” Young said. “I flew with American the other night from Anchorage — there wasn’t a seat available. But if you’re worried about the pandemic, I think we have to consider that.”

The money was meant to keep workers on the payroll, but he said it’s not exactly clear if all the airlines used it to its full potential.

“Directly giving the airlines the money, where does it go? It’s sort of like the state and CARES Act, as good as the senators and I have done, some of that money is still on the shelf,” he said.

In a statement to Alaska’s News Source, Alaska Airlines said it is also one of the companies lobbying for extension right now. In the meantime, it is working with union reps to mitigate any furlough measures.

If you ask local travel expert and Alaska Travelgram publisher, Scott McMurren, the fate of airline CARES Act funding is a “fluid situation” that could change.

Still, he’s not confident that Congress is going to extend that funding for several reasons, namely the demand for flights.

“There’s going to be fewer people traveling in the fall, and there are going to be fewer people traveling because of the pandemic, and you’re going to need less planes in the air, and less people to fly them, and less people to support them,” he said. “So there will be a reduction in force. I just don’t know how that’s going to play out.”

Essentially, he said that it might not make much sense for Congress to throw more money at the airlines if there’s less traveling about to happen. He said recent TSA security screening numbers show that only between 25% and 35% of people are flying when compared to last year.

Additionally, there are a lot of other things on Congress’s plate right now: figuring out a second stimulus package, how to help the masses of unemployed people through the pandemic, and now, even whether or not to allow the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s position on the Supreme Court to be filled, to name a few.

“I want to say that all businesses are suffering, all people are suffering, with respect to the pandemic,” he said. “So if there’s workers that get laid off as a result of a reduction in force [in the airline industry] you know, they deserve some assistance.”

As for the flights in state that get us to and from the communities across Alaska, McMurren said they’re essential and it’s unlikely we’ll lose those flights. However, that demand is also lower right now, so he feels there may be fewer flights along those routes.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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