Boeing, Trump administration in talks about short-term aid

An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked on the tarmac at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington, March 21, 2019.

Lindsey Wasson | Reuters

Boeing is speaking with Trump administration officials about potential aid for the aircraft manufacturer and others in its supply chain as coronavirus and measures to contain it roil the travel industry, a person familiar with the matter said Monday.

Measures to contain coronavirus are rippling through the economy as companies face a plunge in demand as travelers, diners, business travelers and others choose or are instructed to stay home to stop the illnesses’ spread.

The travel industry is at the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis and airline chiefs have slashed flights, frozen hiring and either laid off or asked employees to take unpaid leave.

The crisis hits Boeing after it was struggling with the fallout of two fatal crashes of its 737 Max, which is its best-selling plane. The planes have been grounded for the year after the second of the two disasters, which together killed all 346 people on board. The Chicago-based company earlier this month maxed out earlier than expected a $13.8 billion loan it secured in January to shore up cash.

Boeing’s conversations with Trump administration officials, which was first reported by Bloomberg News, are ongoing and include assistance throughout aviation, a sector that includes Boeing suppliers like General Electric and Spirit Aerosystems, and airports.

U.S. airlines are seeking more than $50 billion in government assistance, including $25 billion in direct grants and another $25 billion in zero-interest loans.

Some lawmakers want something in return.

Sen. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat said he said “any infusion of money to the airlines must have some major strings attached – including new rules to prohibit consumer abuses like unfair change and cancellation fees; protections for front-line workers like flight attendants, pilots, and airport workers; special consideration for our smaller, regional carriers not represented by the major trade associations; and the development of long-term strategies and targets to reduce the carbon footprint of the airline industry.”

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