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U.S. airlines lay out COVID-19 damage and renew calls for aid

(Reuters) - American Airlines AAL.O and Southwest Airlines LUV.N signaled on Thursday that they would continue to hemorrhage cash into next year as revenues hover around a third of 2019's levels due to a collapse in demand from the coronavirus.

Still, both said they had enough liquidity to ride out the crisis, even while renewing calls for another round of government aid after an initial $25 billion to protect jobs through September expired.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said negotiators were making progress in talks with the Trump administration for another COVID-19 economic stimulus package and that legislation could be hammered out “pretty soon.”

Shares of Southwest, which is expanding its network while others have retrenched, were up 4% on Thursday afternoon. The airline said it would stop blocking middle seats in December, enabling it to tap more revenue on each flight.

Shares of American were flat after it said it would issue up to $1 billion of equity to further bolster liquidity, which reached $13.6 billion in September.

British Airways owner IAG ICAG.L warned on Thursday the travel slump from the coronavirus pandemic had deepened in Europe, leading to a larger-than-forecast quarterly loss.

U.S. domestic leisure demand has shown signs of improvement but passenger traffic will remain fragile until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available, Southwest said, while highlighting recent studies showing that in-flight COVID-19 risk is low.

The World Health Organization (WHO) told Reuters that the risk of COVID-19 spreading on flights indeed appears “very low” but cannot be ruled out, despite studies showing only a small number of cases.

Alaska Airlines ALK.N, which also posted quarterly results on Thursday, said it is blocking middle seats through early January, like Delta Air Lines DAL.N.

American and United Airlines UAL.O sell all available seats.

American Airlines said it expects its cash burn rate to fall to about $25 million to $30 million a day in the fourth quarter from about $44 million per day in the third quarter and $58 million per day in the second.

To halt the bleed entirely, it would need about 65% to 70% of the $11 billion in revenue it reported in 2019. It drew in just $3.19 billion of revenue in the third quarter, down 73% from a year ago.

American also said it will tap $7.5 billion in federal loans, more than initially forecast.

Southwest said it would need to roughly double the $1.79 billion in revenue it booked in the third quarter to reach cash burn break-even, though CEO Gary Kelly told investors its $15.6 billion in liquidity is enough to last at least three years.

The airline, whose debt position is among the best in the industry, forecast fourth-quarter average core cash burn of about $11 million per day, compared with $16 million per day in the third quarter and $23 million per day in the second.

With little need for new jets, American said it had agreed with Boeing Co BA.N to defer deliveries of 18 737 MAX aircraft scheduled to be delivered between 2021 and 2024, and said it was discussing delivery delays with Airbus.

Southwest, which flies only Boeing 737s and had already agreed to take no more than 48 MAX aircraft through 2021, said it was also discussing additional delays.

The MAX has been grounded since March 2019 after two fatal crashes. American has said it could return the jets to service this year pending approval for software and training changes, while Southwest said on Thursday it probably will not fly the jets until at least the second quarter of 2021.

The airlines have also parked jets and retired aircraft due to depressed demand.

This article originally appeared on Reuters

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