U.S. House Speaker Pelosi to meet with top U.S. airline CEOs

By David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) – House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi will speak on Friday afternoon with the chief executives of top U.S. airlines, who are urging Congress to approve another $25 billion in assistance to keep tens of thousands of U.S. workers on the payroll past Sept. 30, sources said.

Pelosi and House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio are expected to hold a 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT) call with the chief executives of United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines and others, a Democratic aide told Reuters.

In an interview with NBC’s “Today Show” on Friday, American Chief Executive Doug Parker urged lawmakers to “come together and get it done. … We just need people to do what’s right. I know we’re better than this, and our people deserve better.”

At the end of this month, the $25 billion in federal payroll assistance airlines received when the coronavirus first began spreading around the world is set to expire.

Airlines and unions are now pleading for a six-month extension as part of a bipartisan proposal for another $1.5 trillion in coronavirus relief, while simultaneously negotiating with employees to minimize thousands of job cuts that are expected without another round of aid.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows met with major airline chief executives on Thursday. He said President Donald Trump is also open to a stand-alone measure to aid airlines, though congressional aides say that is unlikely to win support given aid requests from so many other struggling industries.

American has said it plans to end service to 15 small communities without additional government assistance and furlough about 19,000 workers.

Air travel has plummeted over the last six months as the coronavirus pandemic has claimed nearly 196,000 American lives and prompted many to avoid airports and planes, seriously depressing airline revenues.

Congress also set aside another $25 billion in government loans for airlines, but many have opted not to tap that funding source.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Airline CEOs plead with White House to avert looming U.S. job cuts

By Jeff Mason and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows met with major airline chief executives on Thursday as the industry braces for thousands of job cuts in two weeks, and urged lawmakers to embrace a $1.5 trillion coronavirus aid package proposed by a bipartisan congressional group and endorsed by President Donald Trump.

Meadows told reporters said that if House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was willing to move a bill that would support airline workers and prevent layoffs, Trump would support it, noting the looming layoffs of thousands of workers set for Oct 1.

American Airlines Chief Executive Doug Parker said airlines would also be working with Pelosi.

​Meadows said the administration had examined executive action options, all of them less than ideal.

Airlines did not offer a new proposal but again made the case that helping avert airline job cuts was one good reason to pass a broad coronavirus relief bill.

After the meeting with Meadows, Parker said it was “not fair” that thousands of airline workers were about to be laid off. “We’re just here to plead with everyone involved to get to a quarterly package before October 1.”

Southwest Airlines Chief Executive Gary Kelly said the initial payroll support plan “didn’t go far enough and long enough.”

American has said it plans to end service to 15 small communities without additional government assistance.

At the end of this month the $25 billion in federal payroll assistance airlines received when the coronavirus first began spreading around the world is set to expire.

Congress also set aside another $25 billion in government loans for airlines, but many have opted not to tap that funding source.

Companies such as American are now pleading for a six-month extension while they simultaneously negotiate with employees to minimize thousands of job cuts that are expected without another round of aid.

Air travel has plummeted over the last six months as the coronavirus pandemic has claimed nearly 196,000 American lives and prompted many to avoid airports and planes, seriously depressing airline revenues.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. proposes to waive minimum flight requirements for airlines until March 2021

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Friday it is proposing extending temporarily waiving minimum flight requirements at some U.S. airports through late March 2021.

Airlines can lose their slots at congested airports if they do not use them at least 80% of the time. The FAA said it proposing extending waving requirements at New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport that were set to expire in October.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

White House says Trump could act unilaterally to avoid U.S. airline layoffs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump could take executive action to avoid massive layoffs at U.S. airlines, while the coronavirus pandemic weighs on air travel and talks on a new COVID-19 stimulus bill remain stall in Congress, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on Wednesday.

“We’re looking at other executive actions,” Meadows said in an online interview with Politico. “If Congress is not going to work, this president is going to get to work and solve some problems. So hopefully, we can help out the airlines and keep some of those employees from being furloughed.”

His remarks came a day after American Airlines said its workforce will shrink by 40,000, including 19,000 involuntary cuts, in October without an extension of government aid.

Meadows said he has spoken to American Airlines, as well as United Airlines, which has warned that 36,000 jobs are on the line, and to Delta Air Lines, which announced furloughs of nearly 2,000 pilots on Monday.

“So we’ve raised this issue. It would take a CARES package, I believe, to do it,” Meadows said, referring to a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package that Congress passed earlier this year.

Talks between Meadows, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer ended in early August, with top Democrats and the administration far apart on new legislation. Meadows told Politico that he is not optimistic that negotiations will restart soon.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

Britons rush home from France to beat new quarantine rules

By Alistair Smout and Tangi Salaün

LONDON/CALAIS, France (Reuters) – British travelers rushed home from summer holidays in France on Friday, booking planes, trains, boats and even private jets to get home before a 14-day quarantine comes into force in response to rising coronavirus infections there.

The government announced late on Thursday that it would impose a quarantine from 0300 GMT on Saturday on arrivals from France, giving an estimated 160,000 UK holidaymakers there just over 24 hours to get home or face self-isolation on return.

The sudden rule change dealt a fresh blow to tourists, airlines and tour operators. The pandemic has left many travel groups cash-strapped and fighting for survival.

Many British tourists headed towards the French port of Calais hoping to catch a ferry or a shuttle train home in time.

“We’ve changed our plans when we heard the news last night. We decided to head back home a day early to miss the quarantine,” one British woman at a service station on the motorway to Calais said after her week in southern France.

Queues of cars built up in Calais through Friday afternoon. Ferry companies were adding extra crossings to help more people get home, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, head of the Port of Calais, told Reuters.

PrivateFly, a British-based jet provider, said it had seen three times the normal number of enquiries and bookings.

The new quarantine rules apply to France, the second-most popular holiday destination for Britons, as well as to the Netherlands and the Mediterranean island of Malta.

Spain, Britons’ favorite holiday destination, came under British government quarantine rules on July 26.

“We’ve also had a number of enquiries from clients booked to travel to these destinations in the coming weeks to change their travel plans in order to avoid quarantine zones,” PrivateFly CEO Adam Twidell said.

France warned it would reciprocate, dealing a further blow to airlines’ hopes of an August recovery given they may have to cancel yet more flights.

Airline and travel shares tumbled. British Airways-owner IAG was down 6% and easyJet, which said it would operate its full schedule for the coming days, fell 7%.

TIGHTENING QUARANTINE

When Europe first went into lockdown in March, Britain was criticized for not restricting arrivals from abroad. But since June, it has introduced strict quarantine rules for arrivals from countries with infection rates above a certain level.

This contrasts with an easing of rules at home, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered the gradual reopening of the economy to resume, weeks after pausing it.

Transport minister Grant Shapps said the government needed to balance the need to open the economy and to contain the virus. The UK recorded 1,441 COVID-19 cases, the highest daily tally since June 14, official data showed on Friday.

Shapps told BBC Radio he sympathized with travelers but that they should not be entirely surprised, given the fluid situation around the pandemic.

“Where we see countries breach a certain level of cases … then we have no real choice but to act,” he told Sky News.

Airlines UK, an industry body representing BA, easyJet and Ryanair, called on Britain to implement more targeted quarantines on the regions with the highest infection rates and to bring in a testing regime.

An EU study showed that imported cases of COVID typically only account for a small share of infections when a pandemic is at its peak, but are more significant once a country has the disease under control.

(Writing by Sarah Young; Additional reporting by Kate Holton; David Milliken and Richard Lough; Editing by Nick Macfie, Hugh Lawson and Frances Kerry)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Republicans and Democrats in tough talks

U.S. Republicans and Democrats faced difficult talks on Tuesday over how best to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, after Republicans unveiled a relief proposal four days before millions of Americans lose unemployment benefits.

Senate Republicans announced on Monday a $1 trillion aid package hammered out with the White House, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell touted as a “tailored and targeted” plan to reopen schools and businesses while protecting firms from lawsuits.

But the proposal brought opposition from both sides. Democrats decried it as too limited compared with their $3 trillion proposal that passed the House of Representatives in May. Some Republicans called it too expensive.

Vaccine updates

U.S. and company officials are hopeful Moderna Inc’s vaccine against COVID-19 could be ready for widespread use by the end of this year, after the drugmaker announced the start of a 30,000-subject trial to demonstrate it is safe and effective, the final hurdle prior to regulatory approval.

German biotech BioNTech and U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc said on Monday they would begin a pivotal global study to evaluate their lead vaccine candidate. If the study is successful, the companies could submit the vaccine for regulatory approval as early as October.

Meanwhile, European efforts to secure potential COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Sanofi and Johnson & are mired in wrangles over price, payment method and potential liability costs, three EU officials told Reuters.

‘Negligence’ blamed for Germany’s virus case rise

Negligence is behind Germany’s steady rise in new coronavirus infections, the head of a state-funded research body said on Tuesday, adding it was unclear if a second wave was underway.

“The new developments in Germany make me very worried,” said Lothar Wieler, of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases. “The rise has to do with the fact that we have become negligent,” he added, urging people not to flout social distancing rules.

The number of daily new cases almost doubled on Tuesday to 633, and the RKI linked that to increased contact at parties and the workplace.

Swift moves in Vietnam

Vietnam suspended all flights to and from Danang for 15 days after at least 14 coronavirus cases were detected in the city. Two people were in critical condition.

“All evacuation flights now are cancelled,” CAAV deputy director Vo Huy Cuong told Reuters by phone on Tuesday. “We operated 90 flights to evacuate tourists stranded in Danang yesterday but most tourists had already left Danang on Sunday, mostly by coach or train to nearby provinces.”

All bus and train services to and from Danang have also been suspended from Tuesday. With over 95 million people, Vietnam is the most populous country in the world to have recorded no COVID-19 fatalities.

Fly all you want

China Southern Airlines, China’s biggest carrier by passengers, on Tuesday rolled out a “Fly Happily” deal, which allows buyers to use passes for as many flights as they wish for destinations across the country from Aug. 26 to Jan. 6 for 3,699 yuan ($529).

At least eight of China’s dozens of airlines have introduced similar deals since June. Industry watchers say the packages have been a shot in the arm.

But Luya You, transportation analyst at BOCOM International, said these promotional packages can only stimulate demand when coronavirus risks are already sufficiently reduced. “While these packages may work in domestic markets, we do not expect similar rollouts for outbound routes anytime soon,” she said.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes and Karishma Singh; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

U.S. EPA proposing first-ever airplane emissions standards

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday announced it was proposing the first U.S. emissions standards for commercial aircraft.

In 2016, the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) agreed on global airplane emissions standards aimed at makers of small and large planes, including Airbus SE and Boeing Co, which both backed the standards.

The EPA-proposed regulation seeks to align the United States with the ICAO standards, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said. “We are implementing the ICAO recommendations, ICAO standards,” Wheeler told reporters.

The proposal would apply to new type designs as of January 2020 and to in-production airplanes or those with amended type certificates starting in 2028. They would not apply to airplanes currently in use.

Aircraft account for 12% of all U.S. transportation greenhouse gas emissions and 3% of total such U.S. emissions. They are the largest source of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions not subject to standards.

Wheeler said it was critical the U.S. adopt the standards, because countries could ban U.S.-assembled airplanes if they do not meet ICAO standards.

EPA is expected to finalize the rules next spring. The Federal Aviation Administration will then issue separate rules to enforce the standards.

Some environmentalists argue the ICAO rules and EPA did not go far enough.

Clare Lakewood, climate legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said Wednesday, “this toothless proposal does nothing to meaningfully address the serious problem of airplanes’ planet-warming pollution.” She noted EPA was not estimating any emissions reductions as a result of the proposal.

Wheeler said the proposal is based on “where the technology is today … You can’t really set the standard that can’t be met.”

Boeing said the EPA proposal “is a major step forward for protecting the environment and supporting sustainable growth of commercial aviation and the United States economy.”

Airlines for America, a trade group, said the rules will help U.S. airlines “achieve carbon neutral growth in the near term and to cut net carbon emissions in half in 2050 relative to 2005 levels.”

Under President Barack Obama, the EPA in 2016 declared aircraft emissions posed a public health danger. In January, environmental groups filed a notice of intent to sue EPA for failing to regulate aircraft emissions.

(Reporting by David Shepardson. Editing by Gerry Doyle and Nick Zieminski)

Delta, Southwest draw strong demand for pilot early departure deals

By Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines have each received strong demand from pilots for early departure packages aimed at slimming their workforces to weather the coronavirus pandemic, according to preliminary numbers.

The union representing Delta pilots said 2,235 pilots had volunteered for a voluntary early out program ahead of a Sunday deadline, up from 1,700 on Friday, when Delta told pilots it would avoid furloughs if they agreed to reduced guaranteed minimum pay.

At Southwest, around 24% of pilots and 33% of flight attendants have agreed to early retirement or long-term leaves of absence, a person familiar with the matter said.

There is a period for employees at both Delta and Southwest to rescind their decision, so the numbers are not final.

Delta and Southwest did not comment.

U.S. airlines, which received a $25 billion bailout in March to cover payroll for six months, are trying to encourage employees to accept voluntary exit deals in the hope of avoiding involuntary furloughs in the fall, when a government ban on forced job cuts expires.

They had hoped that air travel demand would recover by October, but have warned that bookings that began to rise from historic lows in May and June have now leveled off or even fallen due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in some parts of the country.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler)

End of the jumbo: British Airways retires 747 early due to coronavirus crisis

By Sarah Young, Maria Ponnezhath and Tim Hepher

(Reuters) – British Airways, the world’s largest operator of Boeing 747’s, will retire its entire jumbo jet fleet with immediate effect after the COVID-19 pandemic sent air travel into free fall.

For over 50 years, Boeing’s “Queen of the Skies” has been the world’s most easily recognized jetliner with its humped fuselage and four engines. But its days were already numbered before the pandemic struck earlier this year.

British Airways (BA) had been planning to retire the aircraft in 2024, but with passenger numbers decimated this year, and experts forecasting it will be years before they recover, the airline said it was unlikely its 747’s would operate commercially again.

“It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect,” BA said in a statement on Thursday.

The 747 democratized global air travel in the 1970’s, but fell behind modern twin-engine aircraft and now trails newer planes in fuel efficiency, making it expensive to run.

The move by BA comes after Australia’s Qantas Airways said in June it would retire its remaining 747 fleet immediately, six months ahead of schedule.

BA’s predecessor airline BOAC first introduced the 747 on the London-New York route in 1971 after a one-year delay caused by a dispute with pilots over the terms for flying the new jet.

Hugh Dibley, a former BOAC captain and racing driver who joined the airline in 1958, said the 747’s introduction marked a new era, but was beset with teething problems with its engines.

Landing and taxiing also took some getting used to, from a cockpit positioned almost 30 feet above the ground – or more when angling the nose higher just before touching the runway.

“It was a delight to fly as it was so stable. The initial issue was its height from the ground. It was like landing a block of flats from the 2nd floor,” Dibley told Reuters.

BA’s jumbos are the 747-400 model, the most-sold version of the jet which was introduced in 1989. After BA, only a handful of airlines including Rossiya Airlines and Air China continue to operate them, according to Cirium data.

A newer version, the 747-8, was designed to refresh the brand and counter Airbus’s A380, but has mainly prospered as a freighter and Boeing is soon expected to follow Airbus in announcing a halt to production of such four-engine behemoths.

The end of the runway for BA’s jumbo fleet comes as the company, owned by IAG, faces a battle for survival because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Just as its introduction at BA was marred by labor uncertainty, its retirement almost five decades later comes as BA plans to cut up to 12,000 jobs, or 28% of its workforce, to prepare for a slump in air travel.

U.S.-based Boeing and its suppliers signaled the end of the plane when they set the final number of parts it would need for the 747 jumbo jet program at least a year ago.

(Reporting by Sarah Young in London, Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru, Tim Hepher in Paris, Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Mark Potter)

Explainer: How U.S. airlines are trying to stop COVID-19 on flights

By Tracy Rucinski

CHICAGO (Reuters) – As some Americans prepare to travel for the July 4 holiday weekend, and airlines slowly ramp up service, the U.S. government has not changed rules for air travel during the pandemic, leaving airlines to implement their own measures.

Most are taking what they call “a layered-approach.”

That is the trick, according to infectious disease specialist Dr. William Schaffner of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center: “To implement a series of measures that work together to reduce risk. You can’t rely solely on any one of them because there is no magic bullet that takes care of everything.”

Is he personally ready to fly? Not yet: people should still be sheltering in place if they can and avoid unnecessary travel, he said.

“By its very nature when you jam people together into a tube of toothpaste such as a plane, that’s close contact and you’re going to assume some risk while you do that,” he said.

Here is a list of airline policies and what Dr. Schaffner had to say about each.

MASKS

Major U.S. airlines all require masks and have threatened to remove a passenger’s flying rights for failing to comply.

“If I had to choose one thing, masks would be far and away the single most important thing.”

HEPA AIR FILTERS

These hospital-grade filters are standard on commercial aircraft and filter cabin air about every three minutes, removing 99.97% of airborne particles.

“These do a major job.”

MIDDLE SEATS

Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines are blocking middle seats through at least September. American Airlines and United Airlines are not.

“Close intimate contact is the way this virus is spread. You’re at risk based on the condition of the fellow passenger in your same row, two rows forward and two rows back.”

DEEP CLEANING

Airlines say they have increased cleaning between flights and overnight, disinfecting high-touch surfaces from seat buckles to overhead bin handles with products approved to kill human coronavirus.

Many also use an electrostatic spray that wraps around aircraft surfaces, killing viruses on contact and forming a protective shield for 30 days.

“These steps take care of the inanimate part of transmission. If you’re particularly fastidious, bring some wipes along.”

TEMPERATURE CHECKS

U.S. airlines have called for government-administered temperature checks during the airport screening process but nothing has been agreed. Frontier Airlines began its own screenings last month.

“Useful but with profound limitations.”

HEALTH CHECKLISTS

Leading airlines are requiring passengers to disclose during the check-in process whether they have any COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed in the past 14 days.

“This is also limited because people can just tell you falsehoods.”

LIMITING FOOD AND DRINK SERVICES

Airlines have mostly suspended in-flight services on domestic flights.

“The issue is that you have to remove your mask while eating or drinking.”

DECALS INDICATING 6-FT SPACES ON FLOORS

Airports now have markers on the floor reminding people to keep a distance.

“That’s a simple, inexpensive and very good thing to do. People do need reminding.”

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Richard Chang)