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What The New COVID Relief Bill Means For The Transport Sector

A $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill is expected to pass the House of Representatives on Tuesday 9th March before unemployment programs expire on the 14th. The bill was first approved by the Senate on Saturday in spite of every Republican senator voting against it, with many declaring that the package is too broad and too expensive.

If the bill passes the House of Representatives it will provide $1,400 to every American earning less than $75,000; put $50bn towards improving coronavirus testing centers and ringfence $170bn for schools and universities to help them take steps to reopen, alongside a variety of other payments.

The bill is expected to receive another warm welcome from the airline industry, allocating an additional $14bn for eligible airlines and $1bn for contractors to the air carriers. This is in exchange for airlines not furloughing or cutting workers until 30th September, echoing the bill passed in December 2020.

The proposed legislation was cut from an original bill passed by the House at the end of February, which formerly included $30 billion worth of support for public transportation. Nevertheless, the revised bill has created space for $1.5billion to be allocated to Amtrak and $8billion to be spent on U.S. airports.

Big players within the US travel industry have hailed the support package as a triumph, with U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow stating that the relief “can’t come soon enough”. The praise comes following millions of job losses within the travel industry last year in the U.S., with the expected implementation of the bill aiding the sector’s broader economic recovery.

With airlines operating at barely half their 2019 capacity, Dow finished his statement by noting “We look forward to continuing to work with the federal government on additional recovery and stimulus measures to shorten the recovery period and restore American jobs as quickly as possible.”, perhaps indicating that more work needs to be done to get the sector back to where it needs to be.

Similarly supporting the bill is the U.S. pilot union Air Line Pilots Association who believe that the funds will “help keep our aviation industry poised to quickly respond to increased operations as demand returns”. The Allied Pilots Association, representing American Airlines’ 15,000 pilots echoed these views.

Elsewhere in the industry the inclusion of Amtrak within the bill has been praised, helping to fund their Empire Builder route running through Montana and other states. This financial help will support 1,250 furloughed staff to come back to work as well as to restore various daily routes. Those working in and for airports also welcomed the bill. Lance Lyttle, speaking on behalf of the American Association of Airport Executives, noted that the support for airports within the bill is vital to fund new infrastructure projects, stating that “the path to sustainability is airport investment”.

Overall this rescue package has been lauded as a necessary supplement to the previous relief bills of December and March last year. However, questions remain over how quickly the new measures can be implemented and whether this will indeed be the final round of funding for the beleaguered transport sector. For now at least, it is a welcome respite after a very tough year.

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