Airlines flying empty planes to small Colorado airports plead for OK to cut service
As empty planes touch down in quiet Colorado communities to meet federal rules for taking COVID-19 relief money, airlines are pleading with the Department of Transportation to let them suspend service. And when their requests are refused, airlines are getting creative with flights into Colorado’s regional airports as travel collapses under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic.
Airlines that have taken federal support under the CARES Act must maintain “reasonable and practicable” service. The major airlines are struggling under those definitions. Delta, American and United recently filed exemption requests to suspend flights into dozens of regional airports, including Eagle, Aspen, Gunnison and Montrose in Colorado.
“Under any ordinary meaning of the term, it would not be ‘reasonable’ to require any carrier to place its airport staff and flight crews at risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus solely for the purpose of operating flights for which there is little or no actual demand, if the carrier can offer the few passengers in the affected community who do need to fly a reasonably convenient alternative from another airport that is just a 60-minute drive away,” reads Delta Airlines’ April 30 request for exemption.
The airline cited law dictionary definitions of “reasonable” and “practicable” and reported a single passenger on its daily flights in and out of the Worcester, Massachusetts airport.
The CARES Act requires airlines to retain a minimum level of service to airports they served the week of Feb. 29, 2020 or the week of Aug. 4, 2019. That can be a challenge for airlines that provide different levels of service to resort destinations in the winter than in the summer.
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