U.S. airline aid up in the air as pandemic relief talks resume

By Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson
(Reuters) - The prospect of swift federal aid to U.S. airlines remained uncertain Thursday, with mixed signals about the state of negotiations on stand-alone legislation for the struggling sector and a larger COVID-19 economic relief bill.
U.S. House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi told reporters there would be no stand-alone aid without a comprehensive COVID-19 relief bill, but later left the door open for an agreement in comments on Bloomberg TV.
"There won't be a separate bill unless there is a larger bill," Pelosi told reporters.
Her announcement surprised some Congress officials on Thursday, who discussed the status of airline relief efforts and funding an additional $ 25 billion for the sector hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. airlines received a $ 50 billion bailout in March, half of which was payroll support, consisting mostly of cash grants and half of federal loans. They are seeking another $ 25 billion in salary support to protect jobs for another six months.
After the broader economic talks stalled, hopes had been built this week that the airlines would be relieved of the burden on their own, although hurdles remained for laws that would require unanimous approval.
Republican Senators Pat Toomey and Mike Lee on Thursday opposed more airline cash grants, stating that there are unused federal loans for the sector and that no other Fortune 500 companies have received tax-backed grants.
American Airlines <AAL.O> and United Airlines <UAL.O> began vacationing 32,000 workers last week, and tens of thousands more at these airlines and others have agreed to voluntary departures or shorter hours.
American and United have each received around $ 5 billion in government bonds, although data released earlier this week showed that only 60% of the $ 25 billion fund, which includes executive compensation restrictions and share buybacks, is elapsed were taken.
American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker, following Pelosi's comment on CNBC, said there was still bipartisan support for airline aid and warned that his company would have to stop serving many markets without it.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Chicago and David Shepardson in Washington, additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Lisa Lambert, editing by Franklin Paul and Bill Berkrot)

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