Delta Air Lines

Delta Grounding Half Its Fleet, 10,000 Taking Unpaid Leave

The White House is supporting $50 billion in loan help to airlines, but so far it’s not going along with an industry request for cash grants

NBCUniversal, Inc. A ground crew prepares to unload luggage from an arriving Delta Airlines flight at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on March 15, 2020, in Seattle, Washington.

The world's biggest airline, Delta, is cutting even more flights and parking at least half of its airplanes to catch up with a plummeting drop in travel.

CEO Ed Bastian said Wednesday that Delta Air Lines will cut passenger-carrying capacity 70% across its system, including an 80% cut on international routes, "until demand starts to recover." He said March revenue will be down nearly $2 billion from the same month last year, and April revenue will drop even farther.

Bastian said 10,000 employees have agreed to take unpaid leave. The airline is deferring new aircraft deliveries and lining up $4 billion in new credit, he said in a note to employees.

Shares of Atlanta-based Delta nosedived by 40% on Wednesday before making a partial recovery to close down 26%. They have dropped 60% this year. The airline is metro Atlanta's largest private employer, with more than 30,000 employees, according to the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

Bastian was among several airline CEOs who were on a 15-minute phone call Wednesday with President Donald Trump. The CEO said he is optimistic in getting federal help.

The White House is proposing to make $50 billion in secured loans available to airlines but not direct grants requested by the carriers.

Airlines for America, a trade group for the biggest U.S. passenger and cargo carriers, asked for $29 billion in grants, up to another $29 billion in loans, and at least two years of tax relief. However, the package met with opposition from some Senate Republicans who say they oppose corporate bailouts, and from Democrats who want to put conditions such as consumer protections in any deal.

Just last Friday, Delta announced it would cut capacity by 40% in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, a move that was followed by deeper cuts at American and United.

JetBlue Airways said Wednesday it will reduce capacity 40% in April and May, with steep cuts likely in June and July too.

Before the crisis, U.S. airlines carried about 2.5 million passengers and 58,000 tons of cargo a day. Airlines for America said U.S. carriers are burning through cash as cancellations outstrip new bookings and planes are only 20% to 30% full.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus, which has now infected more than 200,000 people worldwide and killed more than 8,000. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Copyright AP - Associated Press