U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “The State of the Aviation Industry: Examining the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. Witnesses will provide an update on the current status of the aviation industry and address challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The hearing will also examine the implementation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
- The Honorable Eric Fanning, President and Chief Executive Officer, Aerospace Industries Association
- Mr. Nicholas Calio, President and Chief Executive Officer, Airlines for America
- Dr. Hilary Godwin, Dean, School of Public Health, University of Washington
- Mr. Todd Hauptli, President and Chief Executive Officer, American Association of Airport Executives
*Witness list subject to change
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
This hearing will take place in the Dirksen Senate Office Building 106. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
*In order to maintain physical distancing as advised by the Office of the Attending Physician, seating for credentialed press will be limited throughout the course of the hearing. Due to current limited access to the Capitol complex, the general public is encouraged to view this hearing via the live stream.
**Note: Witness list updated 5/5/2020
Chairman Roger Wicker
No part of the American economy has escaped the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The air transportation sector has suffered a particularly painful blow, one intensified by global travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders. Domestic air travel has declined over 95 percent compared to last year. Planes are flying with 12 passengers on average. Half of the U.S. passenger aircraft fleet is sitting idle. The air cargo sector is marginally better, but is still struggling. Just last month, demand for air cargo plunged 15 percent and transport capacity declined by one-fifth compared to last year’s figures.
Even if the global economy recovers, the future remains troubling for aviation. Demand for future U.S. air travel measured by new booking is down 97 percent year-over-year. A recent International Air Travel Association (IATA “Eye-AHH-tah”) survey showed that 40 percent of passengers plan to wait at least six months before booking a ticket – I certainly hope they will rethink that.
The situation is dire not only for airlines and their workers, but also for the air transportation sector, which relies upon a vast ecosystem in order to function. This sector includes airports and their concessionaires; maintenance and repair stations; ticket agents; fixed-based operators and other ground support contactors; and the entire aerospace industrial base. A lot of these businesses are mom-and-pop operations. Many of their workers are hourly, living paycheck-to-paycheck. I would welcome our witnesses’ comments on the current state of aviation and thoughts on the future.
Congress has recognized the importance of preserving the air transportation sector, which is critical for so many other industries and our society generally. The CARES Act included $32 billion in payroll support assistance for air carriers and contractors. Administered by the Treasury, the Payroll Support Program has prevented mass layoffs across the industry. All 13 major airlines and hundreds of regional and small carriers have signed up to participate. Billions of dollars in assistance has already been provided.
Recognizing the great need for liquidity, the CARES Act also included $29 billion in loans within the Treasury’s Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) for air carriers, aviation repair stations, and ticket agents. Let me stress that in doing so Congress provided much-needed liquidity, not a bailout. There are strong taxpayer protection measures in the Payroll Support Program, and ESF loans must be paid back with interest. Beyond direct payroll support and loans, the CARES Act provided further relief with a tax holiday for commercial flights and passengers through the end of the calendar year.
The CARES Act also required the Secretary of Transportation to impose reasonable continuation-of-service obligations on airlines receiving assistance. Americans living in rural areas and small communities deserve continued access to air travel and cargo delivery. Finally, the CARES Act injected $10 billion into the nation’s airports to help them maintain operations and service debts.
The committee is interested in hearing the witnesses’ views on the CARES Act. We would also welcome perspectives on priorities for future potential legislation.
No act of Congress can help the industry if it is unsafe for passengers and crew members to fly and for other aviation workers to do their jobs. To that end, the committee is interested in the steps being taken to protect workers and the flying public.
The air transportation sector bears a special responsibility to prepare for, and actively mitigate, communicable disease outbreaks. COVID-19 is the latest pandemic, but it will not be the last. Air travel is the crucial element that can turn a local outbreak affecting a few into a global pandemic affecting billions of human beings. The committee would welcome the witnesses’ views on the need for new regulations or standards – at both the national and international levels – to harden the air transportation sector against the possibly of future pandemics.
I want to thank our distinguished panel for participating today and express our sincere gratitude for everything the industry is doing to help our nation weather this crisis.
I npw turn to my friend, Ranking Member Cantwell, for her comments.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Eric FanningPresident and Chief Executive OfficerAerospace Industries Association
Mr. Nicholas CalioPresident and Chief Executive OfficerAirlines for America
Dr. Hilary GodwinDean, School of Public HealthUniversity of Washington
Mr. Todd HauptliPresident and Chief Executive OfficerAmerican Association of Airport Executives