US airlines drafting plans for potential shutdown: report

U.S. airlines are drafting plans for a potential voluntary or government-ordered shutdown of passenger flights, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday night

Industry and federal officials told the Journal that no final decisions have been made by the carriers or the White House, while airlines currently struggle to operate with limited passengers during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Officials also said other options were under consideration to prevent a shutdown, but the spreading pandemic has made the shutdown seem more unavoidable to airline officials, pilot-union leaders and federal transportation officials, according to the Journal. 

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Federal Aviation Administration officials are concerned that the virus will spread among agency controllers and technicians, as almost a dozen of traffic-control facilities have had to cease operations temporarily after positive cases.

U.S. airlines have already been hit financially from the virus — most international flights have been canceled, and plans have been announced to reduce domestic flights by as much as 40 percent. The Transportation Security Administration reported an 80 percent drop in travelers Sunday compared to the same day last year.  

Carriers, like American Airlines and United Airlines, have been forced to cancel more than 40 percent of their flights Monday because of a lack of passengers, according to Flightaware.com.

An industry official told the Journal that the airlines would “definitely prefer” if the government initiated a shutdown somewhat because they could use it as leverage during calls for federal aid.

But President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE and his advisers have been reportedly hesitant to issue an order to stop commercial flights, partly because they also carry U.S. mail and essential cargo shipments. 

One option for the government to continue cargo shipments is to use portions of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, which are commercial jets for the Pentagon to use during national emergencies. The fleet would need to be activated by the Pentagon or the White House.

The Pentagon and the White House were not immediately available for comment.

Officials told the newspaper that implementation of any shutdown would take several days. 

Several states have issued stay-at-home orders that prevent 80 million U.S. residents from conducting nonessential travel outside of their homes.