Airlines set for $32 billion in cash aid to keep workers, clearing hurdle for coronavirus bill

Key Points
  • Recent draft text of the coronavirus aid bill calls for up to $32 billion in cash grants so airline workers are still paid.
  • Travel demand has plunged because of the virus and harsh measures to contain it.
  • The airline provisions were a sticking point among lawmakers debating a massive stimulus bill.
Digital signs in the baggage claim area at McCarran International Airport display guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on protection from the coronavirus on March 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller | Getty Images

Lawmakers are moving ahead with more than $30 billion in cash aid for airlines, according to people briefed on the matter and a draft of the bill, clearing a hurdle for a Senate vote on a massive stimulus bill aimed at helping the economy through the coronavirus pandemic.

Airlines have been crippled by a sharp drop in travel demand due to the coronavirus and drastic measures to contain it. Carriers and labor unions pleaded with lawmakers for a mix of both cash grants and loans totaling $58 billion, while Republican senators had originally proposed aid in the form of only loans.

A draft of the Senate bill, which was viewed by CNBC, showed grants of $25 billion for passenger airlines, $4 billion for cargo carriers and $3 billion for contractors, in exchange for maintaining workers. The bill states that these employers must "refrain from conducting involuntary furloughs or reducing pay rates and benefits" through Sept. 30, 2020.

It also includes $25 billion in loans for passenger airlines and $4 billion for cargo airlines. A condition of the loans would allow the government to take out warrants or an equity stake in the borrowers.

Among conditions for the aid are a pause on share repurchase agreements and dividend payments to investors.