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McCarran International Airport. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

With the state suffering from a drop-off in visitors because of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress should immediately provide about $45 billion in aid to the aviation industry and its workers, members of the state's delegation said in a letter to House and Senate leaders of both parties.

“In 2019, both of Nevada’s major airports saw record levels of travelers which helped support strong economic growth,” the lawmakers said in the letter spearheaded by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and dated Tuesday. “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused dramatic decreases in air travel and the resulting economic crisis has harmed Nevada disproportionately." 

“Without strong support for this key component of our state’s economy, Nevada may suffer years of slow growth and high unemployment,” the letter continued.  

Nevada has the nation's highest unemployment rate.

The lawmakers want $32 billion for an extension of the aviation payroll support program (PSP), which was part of the $3 trillion CARES Act signed into law in March. PSP, designed to prevent aviation layoffs triggered by the pandemic, is set to expire at the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

Of the $32 billion, $25 billion would go to passenger airlines, $4 billion for cargo air carriers, and $3 billion for airline contractors.

They requested $10 billion for airports to help with lost revenue and allow them to continue with construction projects. Another $3.5 billion would go to airport concessionaires at airports. 

The letter also calls for the removal of any obstacles to airlines accessing aid, including opening up the air carrier loan program for new applicants.

The letter comes after airline executives and unions, including United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby and Southwest CEO Gary Kelly, recently called for a six month PSP extension to avoid layoffs and furloughs beginning Oct. 1. 

Two GOP senators on Monday introduced legislation that would provide the PSP with $28 billion. 

At a hearing in May, Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen said McCarran International Airport saw more than 50 million passengers in 2019, generated nearly $35 billion in economic output, supported approximately a quarter of a million jobs and was responsible for 18 percent of Southern Nevada’s gross domestic product. McCarran’s 2020 revenue is expected to be, at most, half of 2019.

“The hundreds of thousands of jobs that are supported by the aviation industry in Nevada will be jeopardized, straining our state’s unemployment system further and harming countless families,” the letter said. “Providing more support at this time will help our state recover faster when the pandemic is over and ensure that Nevadans are able to pay their bills, retain their jobs, and fuel economic growth.” 

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