How the Trump Administration Can Keep the Aviation Industry Alive and Save Millions of Jobs
COMMENTARY

March 23, 2020 by Captain Lee Moak
Captain Lee Moak was a commercial airline pilot for Delta Air Lines for twenty years.

As a labor leader with more than two decades of experience in the turbulent airline industry, I urge our government leaders to move with speed to provide immediate grants to keep this vital national industry alive.  The U.S. government has a de facto ban on flying as we are told to shelter-in-place and practice social distancing to battle COVID-19, and a Level 4 travel advisory is in place for all international travel. 

These draconian measures, while necessary for our collective health and safety, are unprecedented and leave one million direct airline jobs and more than 10 million aviation-related jobs on-the-line, in addition to threatening the collapse of the broader U.S. economy, which relies on U.S. aviation as a key driver of commerce.

Without immediate government assistance to U.S. airlines and their workers, they will fail. We’ve seen it happen before in conditions not nearly as extreme as we face now. And if we were to allow our U.S. airlines to fail, it will have a cascading impact on the broader U.S. economy, prolonging our recession and leading many more businesses to fail and millions more Americans to lose their jobs. 

This cannot be allowed to happen. As a unified nation, we must decide to aggressively support the aviation industry and its workers with direct government grants, otherwise, soon we will have no U.S. airlines to rely on for travel – a key driver of our economy – or for our national defense.

The absolute cratering of airline demand due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic crisis, and the subsequent economic fallout and halting of airline travel, show no sign of abating any time soon. 

It is therefore necessary for the U.S. government to step forward to ensure the survival of U.S. airlines, which are the engine of the American economy and a key component of our nation’s national defense. This fundamental industry transports needed goods, facilitates global business and employs millions. It is also critical to the protection of national infrastructure and the safety of our citizens.

The urgency of government action cannot be overstated. U.S. airlines and their employees are critical frontline workers that move America’s economy and defend our nation in times of crisis. Businesses depend on airlines for safe and reliable transportation of people and goods. Americans expect air service to be dependable; it is a hallmark of our nation that we know we can count on our U.S. airlines to carry us wherever and whenever.

The safety record of the U.S. airline industry was, and remains, nearly perfect; an achievement that has come about through thoughtful leadership and investment from both industry and government. 

And let us not forget that U.S. airlines play a critical role in aiding our national defense as a key component of our national strategic lift through the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) program. Without a gainful employed domestic airline industry, our national defense and ability to respond to emergency situations in the U.S. and globally would be significantly weakened.

The engine of the American economy – our airline industry – and all the positive achievements of the last decade now hang in the balance. Millions of jobs will be lost and our ability to respond in defense of our nation will be put at risk if the U.S. government does not act and soon. 

The safest and most reliable aviation industry in the world will have to rebuild from the ashes of this economic collapse, and during that rebuilding period, the same level of dependability and connectivity cannot be guaranteed.

During the past decade and until just three weeks ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic collapse, the U.S. airline industry was doing well. Airline employees are well compensated, with generous benefit packages and excellent working conditions. 

Over the last six years, Delta Air Lines gave its employees profit sharing bonuses of over $6 billion. Last month, Delta pledged $1 billion to become the first carbon neutral airline. American Airlines has invested $23 billion in new, more fuel-efficient aircraft and $20 billion in wage increases since 2013.

We can avoid a collapse of our airline industry – and the ensuing ruin of the broader economy and loss to our national defense capabilities – if the U.S. government acts now, with speed, and without injecting unreasonable political objectives into a bridge package to get airlines and their workers through this period of unprecedented global crisis. Our future prosperity as a nation may very well depend on our ability to get our airlines through this global crisis.

Captain Lee Moak was a commercial airline pilot for Delta Air Lines for twenty years and served as president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, for four years and also Chairman of the Delta Pilots Master Executive Council. He was also a fighter pilot for the United States Marine Corps for twelve years and later in the United States Navy Reserve for another twelve years. He is presently chief executive officer of The Moak Group, based in Washington, DC. He recently co-chaired the Department of Transportation’s Special Committee to review the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aircraft Certification Process and sits on the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee.

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