Furloughs coming at local airlines as federal aid expires

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The federal government has been providing aid to airlines to keep staff employed, but the aid will expire at the end of September.

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Without an extension from Congress, many airlines will have to furlough or lay off workers.

Hawaiian Airlines already announced that it will be cutting 2,501 jobs, which will reduce its workforce to about 4,946 jobs.

“We’ve got very little choice but to right-size our airline for the demand that we think exists in the short-term,” said Hawaiian Airlines chief operations officer Jon Snook.

As part of its downsizing, 839 flight attendant positions and 173 pilot positions will be cut. It is also cutting down a portion of its mechanics and fleet service department.

It’ll cut down about one-third of the airline’s workforce overall.

However, the new pre-testing travel plan the state will launch on Oct. 15 could be the lifeline that the airline needs.

“It provides encouragement … the fact that we’re seeing demand for those markets, albeit very short term right now, gives us hope that there’s going to be a demand for the Hawaii vacation,” said Snook.

Starting Thursday, Oct. 1, Hawaiian Airlines will resume nonstop flights between Honolulu and Las Vegas and Tokyo, Japan. On Nov. 1, nonstop flights will resume between Honolulu and Oakland, Phoenix and San Jose. By Nov. 18, the carrier will be serving 10 U.S. west coast cities.

With fears that Hawaii could see another surge in COVID-19 cases this winter, the demand for air travel is anything but certain.

“The travel isn’t there yet, and the airlines are losing millions,” said aviation expert Peter Forman. “Until the vaccine comes out, you’re simply not going to see the kind of bounce back in travel.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continue to talk about funding, but with the House of Representatives expected to begin recess on Friday, Oct. 2, and the Senate to begin recess the week after, airlines will likely have to keep waiting.

“If the folks in Washington are able to approve an extension to the federal funding, even though we’ve already executed on those furloughs, we’ll obviously try to find a way to bring people back to work again,” said Snook.

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