Mitt Romney pushes legislation he says will help Salt Lake City International Airport, airlines

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Delta Flight 2020, was the first flight out of the new terminal at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Sept. 15, 2020.

While Congress continues a stalemate on passing more pandemic economic stimulus bills, Sen. Mitt Romney on Thursday helped push new legislation to help airlines and airports to survive.

He joined Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, to introduce the Air Carrier Worker Support Extension Act of 2020 to extend the airline worker payroll support program through next March, and provide $28 billion in relief for airlines and airports.

He said that is essential to the economy, and to help keep operations rolling at the new $4.1 billion Salt Lake City International Airport, which opened its first phase this month.

“Keeping airlines flying is essential to our collective economic recovery — the @slcairport was booming and experiencing record growth in passengers before #COVID19,” Romney tweeted. “Our bill would extend support to prevent massive layoffs and ensure airline workers continue receiving paychecks.”

Before the pandemic, the Salt Lake airport served about 26 million people a year — but was designed to handle only 10 million. Airport statistics for July, the most recent full month available, show the number of passengers that month was down in Salt Lake by 65% amid the pandemic.

While previous bills have helped the airline industry, Romney said they need more assistance now.

“Additional relief is necessary as more than 80,000 pilots, flight attendants, and other airline workers face furloughs amidst the ongoing pandemic,” he said. “Keeping airlines flying is essential to economic recovery for all of us.”

Delta Air Lines, which currently provides about 70% of the passenger service at Salt Lake City International Airport and has about 4,000 employees locally, said earlier this month that it is facing “grim economic times” as the pandemic continues.

It announced that it is avoiding involuntary furloughs for most of its employees through next spring — but is doing that by extending a 25% work-hour reduction for ground-based merit and front-line employees through the end of the year, plus using savings from scaled-back operations and from 20% of its employees exiting voluntarily.

“It’s clear the recovery will be long and choppy," Delta CEO Ed Bastian said earlier this month. "We’re still flying just 30 percent of the passenger volumes we had this time last year and are currently burning about $750 million in cash a month.”

Salt Lake City International Airport officials have also said it may take it two to three years for its air traffic to truly recover from the pandemic, and it has been scrambling to deal with plummeting revenue.

Romney said he is still pushing for other pandemic aid beyond trying to help airlines.

“I will also continue to push for a relief package which includes provisions to secure federal unemployment benefits, restart the Paycheck Protection Program, help parents with the expenses of child care and homeschooling, and help our schools keep kids safe,” he said.