By Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson
(Reuters) – U.S. airline union leaders are due to meet with senior congressional Democrats on Wednesday to discuss a second round of aid to protect tens of thousands of jobs, officials said, while airlines continue to wrestle with a drastic downturn in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Two of the largest U.S. airlines, Delta Air Lines (NYSE:) and United Airlines, said on Wednesday they have seen a slight improvement in bookings but are still burning through nearly $1 billion a month of cash.
Airlines do not expect a meaningful recovery in demand until there is a widely accepted COVID-19 treatment or vaccine, which could stimulate pent-up demand and the need for trained workers to service a recovery.
The global race for a coronavirus vaccine suffered a setback on Wednesday when AstraZeneca (NYSE:) suspended its global trials after an unexplained illness in a participant, and Delta Chief Financial Officer Paul Jacobson warned that any vaccine must be followed by broad vaccinations, a process he said could take between six and 12 months.
Airlines are lobbying for a six-month extension of a $25 billion payroll support package they received in March under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Republicans and Democrats have been jockeying for months over the next phase of coronavirus aid.
A proposal from the Republican-led U.S. Senate on Tuesday for additional relief did not include new government assistance for U.S. airlines or airports, but is considered a starting point for talks with Democrats.
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