MIAMI – The US presidential election will take place on November 3, 2020. We take a look at how the future president might shape and revive the US aviation industry. This is potentially one of the most critical elections, especially when the world is fighting COVID-19.
On the surface, it could be said that Trump would let the airlines deal with the crisis as best they can on their own terms while Biden would have a more hands-on approach on the matter. The former can be based on Trump’s aviation proposals on his first election bid to privatize the country’s air traffic control (ATC) system.
However, as it turns out, the candidates might have more similarities than differences when it comes to their handling of the commercial aviation crisis caused by the pandemic.
Both President Trump and former Vice President Biden shared their support for a second bailout for the travel industry. The CARES Act, the US$61bn stimulus package signed by POTUS for the aviation industry, ran out a month ago. This led to the furlough of some 40,000 employees. A second package called the HEROES Act was put in place in May 2020 but was never approved by the Senate.
As Vice President, Biden oversaw the US Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed by President Barack Obama in 2009. It has invested more than US$800bn on infrastructure and stimulus spending, of which more than US$3.5bn has been spent on airport projects.
It is safe to say that both candidates agree that the aviation industry is vital to the US economy. Both will continue to back it in hopes to help it bounce back to pre-COVID levels. CBS News Transportation Correspondent Kris van Cleave said, “Regardless of who wins in November, the travel sector seems likely to have a supporter in the White House; it is too vital to the overall economy to be left to perpetually wither.”
In order to help the aviation industry recover, the virus must be monitored and travelers must be tested before boarding their flights in lieu of a vaccine. In the meantime, the Trump administration has resisted calls for requiring masks on all flights and at airports, leaving it up to individual airlines and airports instead.
More to the point, according to the New York Times, the current administration has blocked a proposal released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to mandate masks.
It is predicted that if Biden wins, he will take steps to protect travelers and transport workers. This entails that, as stated by Politico, masks could become mandatory in aircraft and airports under his administration.
At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, POTUS declared a travel ban for Chinese travelers entering the US. Later, in March 2020, the ban was extended to European citizens, including those from the UK. Biden’s deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said that the Democratic candidate would endorse travel bans if they were sponsored by public health officials.
Bedingfield told CNN in April that the Democratic candidate supported some bans “…that are guided by medical experts, advocated by public health officials, and backed by a full strategy.” Whatever this means if elected is unclear.
Executive Order 13769, or the Muslim Ban, is one of the most controversial orders ever issued by the Trump administration. It caused confusion and uncertainty for both airlines and passengers. Etihad Airways (EY) and Emirates (EK) had to conform to new rules by ensuring that their personnel and passengers did not come from banned Muslim countries.
In a more flexible move, the Wall Street Journal notes that the Trump administration is pushing for a so-called ‘air bridge’ between New York and London. However, monitoring, including two pre-departure travel tests, will be required. We can look for more of these kinds of agreements under the Biden administration as well.
The Future of Transport
Biden’s policy lays out its commitment to developing public transit and rail links across major American cities. This would offer more independence and versatility to fly but could endanger domestic aviation. According to airport-technology.com, Biden has also vowed to ensure that the country maintains a secure aviation system, collaborating with the FAA to introduce its NextGen technology system to improve safety.
The Vice President is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and developing a more sustainable transport system. He is also committed to investing in renewable energy technologies and funding the production of low-carbon aviation to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
However, a point of contention is that if Biden actually enforces his Green New Deal, the airline industry could be the first to suffer, as there is no substitute for Jet-A powered aircraft on the horizon. According to CAPA’s centreforaviation.com, the President insists that his approach stands in stark contrast to “the radical, Green New Deal philosophy that Vice President Biden proposes for this country.”
President Trump indicated that money would be best spent on short, intercity routes. He criticizes the Green New Deal, saying that it would cost too much. If elected, he will leave aviation to pursue its own environmental objectives.
Industry Support for Candidates
On October 27, 2020, the two main US Flight Attendant unions declared their support for Democratic nominee Joe Biden. The President of the two organizations, Sara Nelson, commented on the choice: “The complete and total failure of this president on any plan around coronavirus, is putting our lives in danger and now putting tens of thousands of us out of work with no hope for fixing that gives us the space to do what we normally would be doing this time of year.”
However, as it turns out, aviation is the safest way to travel amid the pandemic and it is not a vector for the spread of COVID-19, so the risk factor seems to be under control in light of the safety protocols airlines have put in place (read HEPA filters).
We can surmise that there is hope that a second bailout would come if either candidate wins. With that in mind, which candidate do airlines support?
In the 2020 race, the airline industry is usually in favor of the Democratic nominee. However, the political contribution margin between the two presidential candidates is tiny. According to industry donor data from the Center for Responsive Politics, various US airlines have contributed US$1.33m to Biden and US$1.31m to Trump.
Presidential Air Travel
Another major difference between the candidates is the number of trips abroad. Fin Gomez from CBS told Clint Henderson from thepointsguy.com that President Trump is not a major traveler abroad. And when he campaigned in 2016, he liked to go back to his own bed (after an event). Biden is going to fly abroad a lot more.
According to AOPA.org, prior to his election, President Donald Trump flew in a 1991 Boeing 757 he owns, nicknamed the “T-Bird.” He purchased the aircraft from Microsoft’s Paul Allen and refurbished it to accommodate 43 passengers instead of the airplane’s usual 180.
Biden’s campaign chartered aircraft from Virginia-based Advanced Aviation before announcing in August 2020 that he would no longer fly in private jets to any events, citing COVID-19 restrictions.
Darrell West, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Tech Innovation at the Brooking Institute, put it clearly when he told Henderson, “Trump will keep the economy open as he doesn’t want to hurt it. Biden will allow people to travel but call for a national mandate on wearing masks in public. He will support airlines and hotels and try to keep them solvent.”
It is difficult to look into the short term with regard to what the US aviation industry wants from the country’s presidential candidates. America faces a third wave of COVID-19 viruses, and airlines continue to burn millions in cash every day. However, we can say that the airline industry will benefit, whoever wins this election.
Featured image: The White House. Photo: Public Domain Textures.