March 18, 2020
Dear RAA Friends and Family:
RAA has been immersed in the continuously evolving global crisis regarding the spread of COVID-19 over the past few days and weeks. Our priority has been supporting our members as they work to protect their passengers, adapt to changing guidance and take every measure to ensure safe transportation for millions of passengers who rely on North American regional airlines for their link to the air transportation system. Certainly, these are difficult times for all and our thoughts, prayers and every possible tangible support will continue to go out to those affected by this illness.
Amidst our response, I wanted to update our global community on this developing situation. RAA applauds the efforts of President Trump and Congress – who are coming together to take swift, bipartisan action to meet the needs of America’s frontline workers. This must continue. We also urge policymakers to take immediate action to keep employers in business. Regional airlines employ about 70,000 employees in the United States and are laser-focused on protecting their employees’ health and livelihoods, while ensuring the long-term preservation of air service for hundreds of millions of passengers who rely on us.
Until just weeks ago, tens of thousands of Americans boarded regional airlines every day to connect to friends and family and the air-service driven global economy. With 63% of our nation’s airports receiving scheduled commercial air service only by regional airlines, most of our passengers live in communities that are too small to support air service from major airlines. Regional airlines, who partner with major airlines to serve these communities, provide an economic and cultural lifeline for our passengers. For residents of remote, island, or isolated Alaskan communities, regional airlines are a literal lifeline, providing the only means for residents to access hospital care or to receive essential shipments of medication and food. To call this air service “essential” is a profound understatement.
Most carriers, including regional airlines, were in strong financial shape three months ago. Today, the singular impact of COVID-19 has brought devastating financial harm to regional airlines like this industry has never seen. This is no time to conceal the enormity of impending harm; frankly, the industry will not survive without immediate help from Congress in the form of grants and loans for part 121 and part 135 passenger and cargo carriers. While loans are necessary to stabilize credit, only direct employer grants will be enough to keep our workforce employed. Additionally, RAA asks Congress to make special considerations to protect the Essential Air Service program during this upheaval. Use of the program will decline during this crisis, but the program must be there for rural communities to assure parity as the economy comes back up.
We understand that requests for public assistance will prompt public questions about airlines that will be asked and must be answered. However, we urge Congress to consider that the airline industry is not a monolith. The unique characteristics of regional airlines’ partner-centered business model is distinct from that of major airlines, and indeed heightens the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on our sector. The direct impact of this worldwide crisis felt by all airlines but is further compounded at regional carriers by the simultaneous impact of the crisis on our partners. Where a liquidity crisis at regional airlines could end service to our passengers and jeopardize our workforce, downstream impacts of the liquidity crises at our partners also puts our employees at risk in case it prevents payments to regional partners or prompts cessation of service to specific markets. As you might expect, it will be small communities that lose service first if the majors pull back.
For all of us, our way of life is at stake. As policymakers rightly consider myriad, urgent and compelling global needs beyond our regional airline ecosystem, I believe it is both right and urgent to take decisive steps to ensure communities of all sizes remain connected to the global air transportation network. Truly, we are on the cusp of changing the air transportation world forever if we do not act now.
Thank you for your attention today and for your friendship within this industry. May you all be safe and well and may we all see the very best of the human spirit on display during these intensely challenging times ahead.
The Regional Airline Association (RAA) provides a unified voice of advocacy for North American regional airlines aimed at promoting a safe, reliable and strong regional airline industry. RAA serves as an important support network connecting regional airlines and industry business partners. In the United States, regional airlines operate 41% of scheduled passenger flights and provide the only source of scheduled air service to 63% of the nation’s airports.