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October 23, 2020 1:30 PM, EDT

Rep. James Clyburn Presses Cargo Carriers on COVID-19 Relief Aid

Atlas Air airplaneAtlas planes parked at Chicago Rockford International Airport. (Chicago Rockford International Airport)

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Rep. James Clyburn, chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, called on four cargo airlines to return pandemic relief aid.

Clyburn (D-S.C.) said $630 million in aid to Kalitta Air, Atlas Air, Western Global Airlines and Amerijet International for payroll support was unmerited.

A review by Clyburn’s subcommittee determined the cargo airlines thrived in the new economic landscape that resulted from the pandemic. The subcommittee noted Atlas Air received more than $406 million in relief aid, Kalitta Air received more than $161 million, Western Global Airlines received more than $34 million, and Amerijet International received more than $30 million.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.)

Clyburn

A provision of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Emergency Security, or CARES, Act, established the Payroll Support Program. The program’s aim was to ensure aviation jobs were preserved and that air carrier industry workers were adequately compensated.

“It is troubling that Atlas Air is set to receive over $406 million in taxpayer funds — more than any other cargo carrier — to pay the wages and benefits of its workers while simultaneously reporting record earnings,” Clyburn wrote to Atlas Air Worldwide CEO John Dietrich on Oct. 19. “The company’s financial success suggests that Atlas Air did not need taxpayer funds to help retain its workers. Given Congress’ goal of preserving jobs, I urge you to return the funds or, if the money was in fact needed for this purpose, demonstrate why this was the case despite the company’s recent success.”

A spokesperson for Atlas Air told Transport Topics on Oct. 26 the company plans to respond to Clyburn’s letter.

The other three carriers did not immediately respond to TT’s request for comment.

Letter to Atlas Air Worldwide by Transport Topics on Scribd

The newly formed subcommittee led by Clyburn is tasked with oversight functions of the pandemic’s federal response. An announcement from the subcommittee Oct. 20 indicated: “Congress did not intend for the funds to provide windfalls to thriving businesses. Yet at least four cargo carriers that enjoyed increased demand and revenue during the pandemic have received hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.”

The coronavirus aid package approved in March provided $32 billion to assist airlines with payroll operations. The funding included $25 billion for passenger airlines, $4 billion for cargo airlines and $3 billion for contractors. Meanwhile, airline industry executives have announced furloughs due to a lack of new emergency relief aid. Transportation sectors, such as transit, and passenger rail also are calling for additional aid during the pandemic.

Top Republicans in the Senate recently proposed directing $30 billion to airlines, including cargo air carriers, through the Air Carrier Worker Support Extension Act. Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said in September: “The market has not turned around as much as we had hoped, and additional relief is needed.”

On Capitol Hill, however, a new round of COVID-19 aid appears to have stalled. Senate Republican leaders suggested additional economic relief is unlikely to be approved prior to the elections, even as negotiations continue between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s team and the Trump White House.

A Senate bill that would have provided more than $500 billion for certain sectors affected by the pandemic failed to advance Oct. 21. The Senate has not taken up a $2 trillion House-passed package.

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