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Hospitality Ireland Presents Round-Up Of Global Aviation, Airline And Travel News

Published on Dec 6 2021 12:29 PM in General Industry tagged: Boeing / United airlines / Norwegian Cruise Line / Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings / Interjet / Flynas

Hospitality Ireland Presents Round-Up Of Global Aviation, Airline And Travel News

Hospitality Ireland presents a round-up of global aviation, airline and travel news.

Boeing Drives S&P, Dow Futures Higher After Omicron Drubbing

Futures tracking the Dow and the S&P 500 rose on Thursday December 2, led by gains in planemaker Boeing and travel stocks, although increasing cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant across the world continued to drive volatility in markets.

Boeing Co gained 4.5% in premarket trading after China's aviation authority issued an airworthiness directive on the 737 MAX plane that will help pave the way for the model's return to service in China after more than two and a half years.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq closed below their 50-day moving average on Wednesday, while the Dow breached its 200-day moving average for the first time since July 2020 on growing investor angst about the latest coronavirus variant and the Fed's hawkish comments.

Wall Street whipsawed this week as investors appeared to scramble for bargains after every drawdown. However, the three indexes are tracking sharp weekly losses, with the Dow on pace for its fourth straight fall.

The United States and Germany joined countries around the globe planning stricter COVID-19 restrictions as the Omicron variant rattled markets, fearful it could choke a tentative economic recovery from the pandemic.

Markets are already worried about supply chain logjams and global central banks returning faster to pre-pandemic monetary policies to tackle surging price pressures.

At 7:21 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 218 points, or 0.64%, S&P 500 e-minis were up 15 points, or 0.33%, and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 15.75 points, or 0.1%.

The CBOE volatility index, also known as Wall Street's fear gauge, was last trading at 29.19 points, a day after hitting its highest level since February.

Stellar earnings reports, coupled with strong economic growth, have powered U.S. stocks to a series of record highs in November, with the S&P 500 climbing 20.1% so far this year.

A Reuters poll of equity analysts said a correction was likely in the next six months, with the benchmark index expected to gain 7.5% between now and end-2022 to finish at 4,910.

Among other stocks, Delta Air Lines led gains among major airlines, up 2%, while cruise operators Carnival Corp and Norwegian Cruise Line jumped more than 3% each to recoup some losses suffered in the previous session.

Apple Inc fell 2.5% and its suppliers Qualcomm , Skyworks and Qorvo slipped between 1.7% and 1.9% on a report that the iPhone maker told its parts suppliers that demand for the iPhone 13 lineup has slowed.

Oil majors Exxon Mobil and Chevron Corp rose 1.2% and 1.4%, respectively, tracking oil prices. Bank of America was the biggest gainer among its peers, up 1.1%.

On the economic data front, the Labor Department's weekly jobless claims data was due at 08:30 a.m. ET Thursday December 2.

UNITED AIRLINES WARNS OMICRON IS THREAT TO TRANSATLANTIC FLIGHTS - FT

BRIEF-United Airlines Warns Omicron Is Threat To Transatlantic Flights - Ft

EU Imposes New Sanctions On Belarus In Coordination With U.S., Britain

The European Union imposed sanctions on state-owned Belarusian airline Belavia on Thursday December 2, accusing the company of flying in migrants as a tactic to destabilise European states, in a new round of punitive measures coordinated with the United States.

Reuters reported the planned sanctions on Nov. 10 and they were approved last month. They came into effect on Thursday December 2 after publication in the EU's official journal. Britain and Canada also imposed new sanctions on Belarus on Thursday December 2.

EU governments blacklisted 17 individuals and 11 entities, targeting judges and top Belarusian officials. Those sanctions are in the form of asset freezes and travel bans.

The sanctions on Belavia mean EU companies can no longer lease planes to the Belarusian airline, EU officials have said. It was not immediately clear if Belavia would have to return the 17 aircraft leased through aircraft companies in Ireland.

The decision takes the total number of Belarusian individuals under EU sanctions to 183, along with 26 entities.

The European Union accuses Belarus of flying in migrants, mainly from the Middle East, and pushing them to illegally cross the border with Poland in a "hybrid attack" on the bloc.

Belarus denies fuelling the crisis. Belavia has denied any wrongdoing.

The EU also targeted hotels and travel agents such as Oskartour which have been accused of using their contacts with airlines to help lure in migrants to Belarus.

In the official journal, the EU said President Alexander Lukashenko had agreed with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin "on planning the opening of new airline routes for Belavia" to bring in migrants.

Moscow denies any involvement.

"Belavia has been involved in bringing migrants from the Middle East to Belarus," the official journal said. "Migrants wishing to cross the Union's external border have been flying to Minsk on board flights operated by Belavia from a number of Middle Eastern countries."

Belavia, which was already barred from flying over the European Union after the grounding of a plane earlier this year, flies to destinations such as Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Pratt & Whitney Targets Backlog With Updated A320neo Engine

Pratt & Whitney's improved version of the geared turbofan engine used by Airbus SE's strong-selling A320neo jet family will help build backlog, the engine maker said on Thursday December 2.

Raytheon Technologies' Pratt said it will also meet the demands of its largest commercial customer, Airbus, which has asked suppliers to explore rates as high as 75 a month by 2025.

The GTF Advantage update comes with 4% higher thrust, 1% improved fuel burn, and can last longer between scheduled maintenance appointments. Pratt says the updated GTF will be the most powerful engine for the A320neo family when it enters service in January 2024. “This is not a paper engine," Tom Pelland, Pratt senior vice president of GTF engines, told reporters at the company's media day in Connecticut. "This is an engine we’re testing today.” The development, reported by Reuters on Wednesday, comes as airlines are under pressure to slash emissions with engine makers eying longer-term advances like hybrid-electric propulsion to improve fuel efficiency.

Pelland said the GTF could deliver future double-digit improvements in efficiency, using new technologies, compared with the original engine launched in 2016 that improved fuel burn by 16%.

Pratt could not specify a timeframe for such an update.

Pratt faces rival CFM International, co-owned by France's Safran SA, and U.S.-based General Electric, which leads in market share on the A320 program.

“We expect to continue to grow our backlog and keep our delivery share in about the same or better place,“ said Rick Deurloo, Pratt's chief customer officer.

Deurloo said the engine maker is not trying to grow its A320 market share of around 40% but wants to be more selective about finding airlines that are more likely to fly the planes.

Engine makers make most of their money over the life of an aircraft in the aftermarket.

The update could help win orders in China which has airports at high altitude, he said.

“There’s a lot of activity we suspect will happen in China next year,” he told Reuters.

Earlier in the day, French jet engine maker Safran said the worst of the coronavirus crisis was over but took a cautious view on long-term airline traffic in a continuing stand-off with Airbus over proposed increases in jetliner production.

Asked about Airbus' plans for 2023, Pratt & Whitney President Christopher Calio told reporters, “We’re going to meet the demands of our customer.”

Deurloo said Pratt hasn't yet set plans for the following two years.

“We have a general question around what that demand may actually be which is why we haven’t locked in for 2024 and 2025," Deurloo said.

United Airlines Sees Threat To Transatlantic Travel From Omicron

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is a threat to translantic travel, United Airlines Holdings Inc said on Thursday December 2, confirming its chief executive officer's comments to the Financial Times.

The airline will have less flying to Europe than it would have in January due to the new variant, CEO Scott Kirby had told the newspaper.

Transatlantic routes - the most lucrative long-haul market -accounted for up to 17% of 2019 passenger revenues for the major U.S. carriers.

Kirby fears passenger numbers will drop on some of its key routes after Omicron's discovery, but he does not expect a change in United's overall outlook, the FT reported.

The company said in an emailed statement that it would continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments to its schedule as necessary.

U.S., Allies Ratchet Up The Economic Pressure Against Belarus

The United States and its allies, including the European Union, on Thursday December 2 imposed sanctions against dozens of individuals and entities in Belarus in a coordinated move to escalate punitive action against President Alexander Lukashenko and his government.

The latest round of sanctions aim to significantly increase pressure on Lukashenko, who is accused of rigging the presidential election last year to stay in power, ordering a massive crackdown on the opposition, and recently sending migrants to the Eastern European nation's border with the EU in an effort to manufacture a crisis for the bloc.

Western nations accuse Russia of supporting him.

Thursday December 2's action was coordinated between the United States, Canada, Britain and the EU. In a joint statement, the group called on Lukashenko's government to immediately and completely halt its orchestrating of irregular migration across its borders with the EU.

"Those, in Belarus or in third countries, who facilitate illegal crossing of the EU’s external borders should know this comes at a substantial cost," the statement said.

The U.S. sanctions designated 20 individuals and 12 entities, taking aim at the country's defense, security and potash sectors as well as government officials and Lukashenko's son.

Washington also restricted Americans from dealing in new Belarusian sovereign debt with a maturity greater than 90 days issued on or after Thursday by the country's finance ministry or Development Bank.

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said Ottawa had imposed new sanctions on 24 individuals and seven entities.

The EU, for its part, imposed sanctions on the state-owned Belarusian airline Belavia. EU governments blacklisted 17 individuals and 11 entities, targeting judges and top Belarusian officials, taking the number of people under sanctions to 183, as well as 26 entities.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said it would retaliate against the EU sanctions, which it said were designed to strangle the country and worsen the lives of its people.

"As a response, as we have previously said, we will take harsh, asymmetrical but adequate measures."

It did not immediately comment on the actions by the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom.

As part of Thursday December 2's move, Washington imposed sanctions on the Belarusian state-owned tourism company and seven Belarusian government officials over the migrant crisis.

EU countries have accused Belarus of creating a migrant standoff nL1N2SM0RR on the bloc's eastern borders by encouraging thousands from the Middle East and Africa to try to cross into Poland and Lithuania, in revenge for Western sanctions on Minsk.

Lukashenko denies doing so and pins the blame for the crisis on the EU.

Rights groups say at least 13 people have died as migrants have camped in freezing conditions at the border.

Entities related to the potash sector were also blacklisted on Thursday in an effort to limit the financial benefits Lukashenko's government derives from potash exports.

Britain targeted one of the world's largest potash fertilizer producers, state-run Belaruskali.

Washington, which blacklisted Belaruskali in August, added its exporting arm, the Belarus Potash Company (BPC), to its blacklist. Shares of global potash producers rose on Thursday following the announcement.

BPC did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The United States also blacklisted state-owned cargo carrier Transaviaexport Airlines, which it accused of shipping thousands of tons of ammunition and weapons to foreign conflict zones such as Libya, as well as five entities that produce or export defense materials.

The defense firms listed included the makers of riot control barriers and armored vehicles that were deployed against crowds protesting the official results of the August 2020 presidential election. Lukashenko was declared the winner with about 80% of the vote despite opposition claims that he had lost the race.

Brian O'Toole, a former Treasury official now with the Atlantic Council, said Thursday December 2's move helped the United States catch up with previous EU action while also leaving room for escalation.

"This is exactly what you want to see out of the U.S. It's a big action, it will have lots of impact, and there's still lots of head room," he said.

U.S. Steps Up Fight Against Omicron As Variant Marches Across Globe

President Joe Biden on Thursday December 2 laid out his strategy to fight the coronavirus as the highly contagious Omicron spread across the globe with winter coming and hours after the first known U.S. case of community transmission of the variant was reported.

With authorities around the world scrambling to contain Omicron, Biden warned in no uncertain terms that infections will rise this winter.

"We're going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion," he said, speaking at the National Institutes of Health medical research facility in Maryland.

New York has found five cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, its governor said, becoming the fourth U.S. state to detect the variant and bringing the total number of infections in the country to eight.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul told a news conference that one of the cases involved a 67-year-old Long Island woman with mild symptoms who had recently returned from South Africa.

The woman had some vaccination history but it was not yet known how many doses she had received. Further information was not yet available on the other four people, all New York City residents, Hochul said.

The other U.S. states that have found Omicron cases are California, Colorado and Minnesota, one in each state. In all three cases, the patients were fully vaccinated and developed mild symptoms.

In California and Colorado, the patients had recently returned from trips to southern Africa and had not gotten booster doses. The case in Minnesota is the first known community transmission within the United States.

The patient in Minnesota had recently travelled to New York City for an anime convention, prompting the city to launch contact tracing to try to contain the spread.

“We are aware of a case of the Omicron variant identified in Minnesota that is associated with travel to a conference in New York City, and we should assume there is community spread of the variant in our city," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said ahead of Hochul's announcement.

Much remains unknown about Omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa last month and has been reported in at least two dozen countries, just as parts of Europe were already grappling with a wave of infections of the Delta variant.

Under Biden's plan, the United States will require inbound international passengers to be tested for COVID-19 within one day of departure, regardless of vaccination status. Mask requirements on airplanes, trains and public transportation vehicles will be extended to March 18.

The U.S. government will require private health insurers to reimburse their 150 million customers for 100% of the cost of over-the-counter, at-home COVID-19 tests, administration officials said, and make 50 million more tests available free through rural clinics and health centers for the uninsured.

Less than 60% of the U.S. population, or 196 million people, have been fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates among wealthy nations.

Fears about the Omicron variant have pounded financial markets and created doubts about the speed of the global economic recovery as the pandemic rages on. Shares fell on Thursday, and crude oil futures extended losses.

The variant could slow global economic growth by exacerbating supply chain problems and depressing demand, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told the Reuters Next conference on Thursday December 2.

"There's a lot of uncertainty, but it could cause significant problems. We're still evaluating that," she said.

Eager to avoid derailing a fragile recovery of Europe's biggest economy, Germany had kept businesses open to the almost 69% of the population that is fully vaccinated as well as those with proof of having recovered from the virus.

But on Thursday, the country announced it would bar the unvaccinated from all but essential businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies, while legislation to make vaccination mandatory will be drafted for early next year.

"We have understood that the situation is very serious," Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference.

A nationwide vaccination mandate could take effect from February 2022 after it is debated in the Bundestag and after guidance from Germany's Ethics Council, she said.

The European Union's public health agency said the variant could be responsible for more than half of all COVID infections in Europe within a few months.

A group of South African health bodies said on Thursday their latest findings indicated the variant posed a threefold higher risk of reinfection than the currently dominant Delta variant and the Beta strain.

The country also said it was seeing an increase in COVID-19 reinfections in patients contracting Omicron - with people who have already had the illness getting infected again - in a way that it did not see with other variants.

Global travel curbs accelerated on Thursday December 2 in response to the threat from Omicron.

In the Netherlands, health authorities called for pre-flight COVID-19 tests for all travel from outside the European Union, after it turned out that most of the passengers who tested positive after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Nov. 26 had been vaccinated.

Russia has imposed a two-week quarantine for travellers from some African countries including South Africa, the Interfax news agency said, quoting a senior official. Hong Kong extended a travel ban to more countries and Norway, among others, re-introduced travel restrictions.

Amid all the new restrictions, Europe's largest budget airline, Ryanair, said it expected a challenging time at Christmas, although it was still optimistic about summer demand.

China Regulator Says More Testing Needed To Certify C919 Aircraft

China's aviation regulator said on Friday December 3 that there is still a huge amount of testing to be done for the home-grown narrowbody C919 aircraft to be certified, raising doubt over planemaker COMAC's year-end target.

So far, the C919, China's attempt to rival Airbus SE and Boeing Co, has completed only 34 certification tests out of 276 planned, Yang Zhenmei, a Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) official, told reporters.

Reuters in September reported COMAC has found it harder to meet certification and production targets for the C919 amid tough U.S. export rules, according to three people with knowledge of the programme.

China Eastern Airlines Corp Ltd said in August it expected to receive its first C919 by the end of the year, but that would require the model to be certified.

COMAC is years behind its initial certification schedule and it did not take the C919 to China's biggest air show in Zhuhai in September.

C919 Chief Designer Wu Guanghui last month recommended CAAC continue to focus on certification as a priority for next year and asked it to step up resources to help with the delivery and commercial operations of the plane.

New U.S. COVID-19 International Travel Testing Rules Take Effect Monday December 6

New rules requiring international air travelers arriving in the United States to obtain a negative COVID-19 test within one day of travel will take effect Monday December 6 at 12:01 a.m. ET (0501 GMT), according to an order issued late Thursday December 2.

Under current rules, vaccinated international air travelers can present a negative test result obtained within three days of their day of departure. Unvaccinated travelers currently must get a negative COVID-19 test within one day of departure.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky's order says the agency "must take quick and targeted action to help curtail the introduction and spread of the Omicron variant into the United States."

The CDC said beginning Monday "all air travelers, regardless of citizenship or vaccination status, will be required to show a negative pre-departure COVID-19 viral test taken the day before they board their flight to the United States."

The tighter testing timeline "provides an added degree of public health protection as scientists continue to assess the Omicron variant," the White House said in a factsheet released Thursday.

The CDC order noted the Omicron variant has been found in 23 countries. The order didn't require COVID-19 testing requirements for international travelers crossing U.S. land borders with Canada or Mexico.

CDC's order said it "may exercise its enforcement discretion to adjust the scope of accepted pre-departure testing requirements to allow passengers and airline and aircraft operators greater flexibility regarding the requirements."

The CDC is expected to give airlines a three-day grace period to allow for some travelers to return to the United States with tests taken outside of the one-day window, sources told Reuters.

The administration is considering whether to grant temporary exemptions for about two dozen countries where access to same-day testing is limited, but the details are still being finalized, the sources added. Those exemptions could last for only about a week and are expected to be detailed on Friday December 3.

On Monday November 29, the White House said it would bar nearly all foreign nationals from entering the United States from eight southern African countries over fears of the spread of the Omicron variant, but has not extended those travel restrictions to other countries where the new variant has been discovered.

The U.S. top infectious disease official Anthony Fauci said Wednesday December 1 he viewed the restrictions on the eight countries as a "temporary measure."

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday she would not "expect the lifting of restrictions before we know more about the variant. We will continue to evaluate if additional restrictions need to be put in place."

Belarus State Airline Cuts Fleet By Nearly Half Due To Sanctions

Belarusian state-run airline Belavia said on Friday December 3 it had been forced to reduce its fleet of planes by almost half after the European Union targeted it with sanctions.

The EU sanctioned Belavia on Thursday, accusing it of flying in migrants as a tactic to destabilise European states, punitive measures that were coordinated with Washington.

The sanctions mean EU companies can no longer lease planes to the airline, EU officials have said.

"Due to the imposition of restrictions, the airline has been forced to reduce its fleet," Belavia said in a statement, adding it currently had 15 aircraft.

It did not specify which of its previous 14 Boeing and 15 Embraer aircraft were no longer part of the fleet.

As of the end of last year, the airline owned 15 planes, including 5 Embraer and 8 Boeing aircraft, with the same number on lease. One of Belavia's biggest suppliers of leased planes has been the Air Lease Corporation (ALC).

Belavia, the only airline in the ex-Soviet economy of 9.5 million people, said it planned to rebuild its fleet by purchasing planes and also by leasing them from non-EU based companies.

It has been banned from much of Europe's airspace after an international outcry over the grounding of a Ryanair jet in Belarus and arrest of a dissident.

U.S. Airlines To Participate In Senate Oversight Hearing

U.S. airlines will take part in a Senate oversight hearing this month on the industry, an aviation trade group said on Friday December 3, with lawmakers expected to quiz executives about how carriers used pandemic-related federal aid, staffing issues and other matters.

The Senate Commerce Committee has invited the chief executives of seven major U.S. airlines to testify at the planned Dec. 15 hearing.

Airlines for America (A4A), an industry trade group, said in a statement that "the U.S. airlines look forward to participating" but did not specify whether the CEOs would testify, as requested by Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, the committee's chair.

Cantwell has invited the CEOs of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Alaska Airlines and Spirit Airlines to appear, Reuters reported this week.

A4A said the carriers look forward to continuing to work with Cantwell and Senator Roger Wicker, the committee's top Republican, "on the issues facing the U.S. airline industry."

"I would encourage them to show up," Cantwell told Reuters on Wednesday of the CEOs. "I think it is bad faith not to show up. ... The public deserves to know some answers."

Cantwell added that "we're going to do our oversight role because this was a lot of money." Many of those CEOs are expected to be in Washington on the day of the hearing to take part in an A4A meeting, officials said.

U.S. airlines and carriers around the world were hard hit by reduced business and tourist travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting in March 2020, Congress approved three rounds of taxpayer bailouts totaling $54 billion to cover much of U.S. airline payroll costs through Sept. 30 of this year as a result of the pandemic.

Lawmakers want to know if voluntary employee buyouts offered by airlines, despite receiving payroll assistance, caused operational problems at some carriers that have resulted in the cancellation of hundreds of flights in recent months.

The leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation Committee separately have asked A4A to answer questions about the government payroll aid that the carriers received.

Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio, the committee's chairman, and the panel's top Republican, Representative Sam Graves, asked A4A to answer questions about staffing reductions despite the taxpayer assistance.

DeFazio and Graves in a letter made public late on Thursday December 2 noted that questions have been raised about disruptions at two major U.S. carriers in recent months and asked whether that is the result of "a shortage of workers in key operational areas" despite the aid from Congress.

"We expect airlines to take whatever measures are available to ameliorate any short-staffing issues and begin to address longer-term workforce shortages," the two congressmen wrote.

Southwest Airlines and American Airlines in recent months have had high-profile issues resulting in the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

A4A said COVID-19 cut air travel demand by as much as 96% during the early stages of the pandemic last year.

"The industry was in survival mode, and the (assistance program) was critical to ensuring U.S. airline employees remained on the job, ready to go and able to continue providing essential services," the group said.

It added that "the operational disruptions that some carriers have experienced are wholly unrelated to the federal support."

Airlines that received government assistance were not allowed to issue involuntary layoffs or cut worker pay. They also had to limit executive compensation and halt share buybacks and dividend payments.

Mexican Airline Interjet Plans To Restart In 2022 With 10 Airplanes

Mexican budget airline Interjet plans to resume flights in 2022 with 10 leased Airbus SE airplanes after shutting down a year ago when its already-suffering finances were hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, company representatives said on Friday December 3.

The pandemic's toll on the global tourism industry had exacerbated operational and debt problems at Interjet, putting the company on the brink of bankruptcy.

"The plan is to restart operations with 10 Airbus 320 (planes)," Luis Bertrand, the newly appointed chief executive, said in an interview, adding that the company "is alive, is viable, and we're going to get it ahead."

Interjet must first wrap up negotiations with creditors through a judicial process that has been slowed by a strike by the airline's union, comprising 5,000 employees, that began in January.

Ivan Romo, managing partner at SOELI Consulting, the firm managing Interjet's restructuring, said the company is working with creditors to reach agreements that can be formalized once the legal process begins.

Romo said the goal is to "start again in the coming year," aiming for forgiveness between 90% and 99% per creditor.

Interjet is set to lease the Airbus planes, with six slated to depart from Mexico City, two from Toluca and two from the partially built airport at Santa Lucia, just outside Mexico City.

Bertrand, who previously ran the Toluca International Airport near Mexico City, said work is moving ahead to restart operations while negotiations are underway on the financial, legal and labor side. Part of that includes a plan to give 22 Sukhoi aircraft back to Sukhoi in exchange for cancelling 6.3 billion pesos ($296.28 million) in debt, Bertrand said.

"We have already signed the respective agreements so that they can start rehabilitating these aircraft again," Bertrand said.

U.S. Airlines To Participate In Senate Oversight Hearing

U.S. airlines will take part in a Senate oversight hearing this month on the industry, an aviation trade group said on Friday December 3, with lawmakers expected to quiz executives about how carriers used pandemic-related federal aid, staffing issues and other matters.

The Senate Commerce Committee has invited the chief executives of seven major U.S. airlines to testify at the planned Dec. 15 hearing.

Airlines for America (A4A), an industry trade group, said in a statement that "the U.S. airlines look forward to participating" but did not specify whether the CEOs would testify, as requested by Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, the committee's chair.

Cantwell has invited the CEOs of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Alaska Airlines and Spirit Airlines to appear, Reuters reported this week.

A4A said the carriers look forward to continuing to work with Cantwell and Senator Roger Wicker, the committee's top Republican, "on the issues facing the U.S. airline industry."

"I would encourage them to show up," Cantwell told Reuters on Wednesday of the CEOs. "I think it is bad faith not to show up. ... The public deserves to know some answers."

Cantwell added that "we're going to do our oversight role because this was a lot of money." Many of those CEOs are expected to be in Washington on the day of the hearing to take part in an A4A meeting, officials said.

U.S. airlines and carriers around the world were hard hit by reduced business and tourist travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting in March 2020, Congress approved three rounds of taxpayer bailouts totaling $54 billion to cover much of U.S. airline payroll costs through Sept. 30 of this year as a result of the pandemic.

Lawmakers want to know if voluntary employee buyouts offered by airlines, despite receiving payroll assistance, caused operational problems at some carriers that have resulted in the cancellation of hundreds of flights in recent months.

The leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation Committee separately have asked A4A to answer questions about the government payroll aid that the carriers received.

Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio, the committee's chairman, and the panel's top Republican, Representative Sam Graves, asked A4A to answer questions about staffing reductions despite the taxpayer assistance.

DeFazio and Graves in a letter made public late on Thursday noted that questions have been raised about disruptions at two major U.S. carriers in recent months and asked whether that is the result of "a shortage of workers in key operational areas" despite the aid from Congress.

"We expect airlines to take whatever measures are available to ameliorate any short-staffing issues and begin to address longer-term workforce shortages," the two congressmen wrote.

Southwest Airlines and American Airlines in recent months have had high-profile issues resulting in the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

A4A said COVID-19 cut air travel demand by as much as 96% during the early stages of the pandemic last year.

"The industry was in survival mode, and the (assistance program) was critical to ensuring U.S. airline employees remained on the job, ready to go and able to continue providing essential services," the group said.

It added that "the operational disruptions that some carriers have experienced are wholly unrelated to the federal support."

Airlines that received government assistance were not allowed to issue involuntary layoffs or cut worker pay. They also had to limit executive compensation and halt share buybacks and dividend payments.

Saudi Arabian Airlines Signs Deal With CFM International Worth $8.5bn - Statement

Saudi Arabian Airlines has signed an agreement with CFM International worth $8.5 billion at list prices, the carrier said in a statement on Saturday December 4.

The state-owned carrier, also known as Saudia, said "it has ordered CFM International LEAP-1A engines to power its new fleet of 35 Airbus A321neo and 30 A320neo aircraft".

Saudi Airline Flynas Signs Agreement Worth $4bn With CFM - Statement

Saudi airline Flynas has signed an agreement with CFM International to maintain LEAP-1A engines in a deal valued at $4 billion, the Saudi Arabian budget carrier said in a statement on Saturday December 4.

COVID Cases Found On Norwegian Cruise Ship Returning To New Orleans

A cruise ship set to dock in New Orleans with over 3,000 passengers has detected 10 cases of COVID-19 among its crew and guests, the Louisiana Department of Health said late on Saturday December 4.

The cruise ship Norwegian Breakaway, owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd, departed New Orleans on a weeklong cruise on Nov. 28 and had stops in Belize, Honduras and Mexico, the health agency said.

"NCL has been adhering to appropriate quarantine and isolation protocols," the department said in a tweet.

The ship is set to reach New Orleans on Sunday December 5 morning, according to its itinerary.

Everyone on board will be tested for COVID-19 before leaving and will be provided with post-exposure and quarantine public health guidance by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

People who test positive for COVID-19 will either travel to their homes or self-isolate according to CDC guidelines, the health agency said.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside regular business hours.

News by Reuters, edited by Hospitality Ireland. Click subscribe to sign up for the Hospitality Ireland print edition.

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