Airline CEOs set to testify at Senate hearing

Chief executives of American, Southwest and United Airlines will answer questions from lawmakers on Wednesday

The chief executives of several of America's top airlines are slated to testify before a Senate committee on Wednesday, where lawmakers will inquire about the effectiveness of COVID-19 payroll relief funds extended to carriers.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is holding a hearing titled, "Oversight of the U.S. Airline Industry," at 2:30 p.m. ET to examine how $54 billion in payroll grant funds were spent by the companies, particularly in light of the workforce issues and flight cancelations that have plagued the industry as it has emerged from the drop in travel brought on by the pandemic.

Flanked by other airline executives, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker speaks to reporters after meeting with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in Washington, Sept. 17, 2020. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque / Reuters Photos)

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
AAL AMERICAN AIRLINES GROUP INC. 16.24 -0.22 -1.34%
LUV SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO. 43.71 -0.14 -0.32%
UAL UNITED AIRLINES HOLDINGS INC. 41.43 -0.35 -0.84%
DAL DELTA AIR LINES INC. 38.76 +0.04 +0.09%

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly and United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby have all agreed to attend the hearing, along with Delta Air Lines Executive Vice President and Chief of Operations John Laughter.

Over the summer, committee chair Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., sent a letter to several major U.S. airlines demanding answers regarding widespread flight disruptions.

Sen. Maria Cantwell

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, at the Senate Commerce Hearing on Capitol Hill on June 17, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images / Getty Images)

AIR TRAVELERS TO US SET TO FACE TOUGHER COVID-19 TESTING

"I am deeply concerned by recent reports highlighting… workforce shortages that have caused flight cancellations and generated delays for passengers," the senator wrote. "These shortages come in the wake of unprecedented federal funding that Congress appropriated, at the airlines’ request, to support the airline industry during the COVID-19 pandemic."

According to Reuters, which first reported on the airline executives' invitations to sit before the panel, American Airlines' Parker is expected to tell the committee that the federal government's COVID-19 relief funds "saved the airline industry."

Doug Parker American Airlines

Doug Parker, chairman and chief executive officer of American Airlines Group Inc., speaks during a briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on March 4, 2020. (Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images) (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

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Parker will also tell senators during his testimony that if the federal government had structured the coronavirus relief entirely as loans, most domestic carriers "would have survived by shutting down flying in April 2020, furloughing almost all of our teams, and waiting for demand to return to levels strong enough to justify restoring flying. As it turns out, that would have been some time in 2021."

Parker, who is retiring in March, is also expected to announce that American Airlines aims to hire another 18,000 employees next year.