With help from Brianna Gurciullo
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— Airlines and airports are getting ready for an industry-saving infusion of cash from the $2 trillion stimulus bill signed by President Donald Trump on Friday.
— Lawmakers see an opening for infrastructure legislation in the next coronavirus response package.
— Trump hit out at auto manufacturers, with extra venom focused at General Motors.
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AIRLINES ARE GETTING THEIR MONEY. NOW WHAT? As members of Congress headed back to D.C. on largely empty planes on Friday to vote on a $2 trillion stimulus package, H.R. 748 (116), the airline industry breathed a sigh of relief. The bill, with $61 billion in loans and grants, meets their immediate needs to stay afloat and keep employees on board. “We’re going to work hard to make a commitment not to furlough people, anyway, but the government grant program could prove to be something that gives us a lot more confidence that we can follow through on that,” said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly. (Airlines must agree to not furlough employees through September to be eligible for $29 billion in grants.)
But they’re staying quiet about how exactly they’re planning to use the money, Pro Energy’s Anthony Adragna and your host report. Delta Air Lines’ response basically sums it up: “At this time we are evaluating all of the programs available to us through the recovery package.” There’s still a lack of clarity about all the terms and conditions that come with the money, airline analysts said, meaning industry lawyers will be poring over the law this week.
It’s also worth noting that the Treasury secretary can get “warrants, options, preferred stock, debt securities, notes, or other financial instruments” from airlines that receive aid.
On Friday, the leaders of United Airlines said the company wouldn’t furlough employees before the end of September, but they said that if demand stays low through part of next year, United’s workforce “will have to be smaller.”
AIRPORTS READY FOR INFUSION OF CASH, TOO: The bill also includes $10 billion for airports, which the industry is hoping can go out in a hurry. The money will flow through existing grant programs and be managed by the FAA’s Office of Airports, which “is excellent at turning around and getting grants out in a hurry,” said Joel Bacon of the American Association of Airport Executives.
A case study: One of the many airports in need of the money is Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Mississippi. It has $2.1 million in bond payments due in September, and typically makes those payments using Passenger Facility Charge revenue and operational revenue, both of which have dropped off precipitously.
PILOT RECORDS RULE IS FINALLY HERE: The FAA is expected to release a long-awaited rule today that will require airlines to submit pilot information to an electronic database and review the system before hiring. As our Brianna Gurciullo reports, it’s a delayed response mandated by Congress after the 2009 Colgan Air crash near Buffalo, N.Y. Under the new proposal, airlines would have to start submitting “specific” records within a year of a final rule being published and would have to “input all historical records” within two years.
Ken Mellett of Virginia, who lost his son Coleman in the Colgan crash, called it “a big step in the right direction in terms of finally bringing this database to full implementation” and said it’s “critical that this database is brought online as quickly as possible.”
INFRASTRUCTURE IN THE WORKS FOR NEXT CORONAVIRUS PACKAGE: Lawmakers are pressing forward with infrastructure legislation, hoping they can find a spot for it in the next coronavirus response package.
There’s interest in both chambers, your host reports. And while over the past few months it’s seemed like the biggest obstacle to a bipartisan deal on surface transportation would be the payment method, Congress is in a spendy mood, having just pumped $2 trillion of deficit spending into the economy.
The timeline: The House is now out indefinitely and the Senate until April 20, but that doesn’t mean work will slow down. “At a staff level, they’re going to be working while everyone’s out of town to start putting together what phase four might look like,” said an infrastructure lobbyist who’s been tracking the efforts. The lobbyist said his sense is that bill writers in both chambers are close enough to being done with them that if the pressure was put on by leadership, “they could get there in two weeks.”
If they’re looking for inspiration: The Coalition for Green Capital, a group advocating for a national green infrastructure bank, put out new poll data today that found 71 percent of respondents saying they’d support Congress including funding in a stimulus bill for the construction of clean energy and transportation infrastructure.
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TRUMP LASHES OUT AT GM: The president invoked the Defense Production Act on Friday, directing General Motors to manufacture ventilators needed for the coronavirus response — but not before picking a fight with the automaker on Twitter and bashing its CEO by name, Pro Energy’s Gavin Bade reports.
The move came after weeks of criticism from congressional Democrats and governors, who said that Trump should have “invoked P,” as he confusingly put it, sooner.
So when will car companies actually make medical equipment? Both GM and Ford have now partnered with medical device suppliers to produce ventilators for the coronavirus outbreak, but they told POLITICO this week their plans are still in the early stages, Gavin writes.
— “Trump now urging U.S. to hunker down through April.” POLITICO.
— “Qatar Airways says it will need state support as cash runs out.” Reuters.
— “Detroit auto show canceled, center to be used as hospital.” Associated Press.
— “Lyft is referring drivers to jobs at Amazon after massive ridership decline.” The Verge.
— “The Great American Migration of 2020: On the move to escape the coronavirus.” Washington Post.
— “Boeing to emerge as big stimulus winner.” Wall Street Journal.
DOT appropriations run out in 183 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 1,280 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 183 days.