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Republican senators push for $25 billion in additional airline job aid as virus continues to hit demand

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A United Airlines ticketing agent checks the mobile device of a passenger as he tries to check in for a flight in the main terminal of Denver International Airport.

David Zalubowski | AP

Sixteen Republican senators on Wednesday backed $25 billion in additional federal aid to support airline industry jobs as a spike in coronavirus cases in the U.S. hurt a modest recovery in flight demand in recent weeks.

More than 200 House lawmakers have already backed the extension, which would preserve jobs until the end of March 2021. The senators’ backing is putting more steam behind the initiative as lawmakers debate another big  aid package to help the U.S. weather the impact of the pandemic.

U.S. passenger airlines were allocated $25 billion in aid, mostly in grants, that would preserve sector jobs until Oct. 1, but carriers have started telling tens of thousands of workers that their jobs are at risk when the relief terms expire this fall.

Meanwhile, travel demand remains at a fraction of last year’s levels.

“For these reasons, we support a clean extension of payroll support for passenger air carrier employees included in the CARES Act to avoid furloughs and further support those workers,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter, which was seen by CNBC, to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Labor unions had been urging an extension since June and CEOs of some of the largest U.S. carriers said they back an extension. CEOs of American and Southwest, have said they have spoken with lawmakers and officials in Washington about the additional aid.

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