A United Airlines Boeing 737-800 and a United Airlines A320 Airbus approaching San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco.
Louis Nastro | Reuters
United Airlines CEO said Sunday that any recovery in the aviation industry will have to wait for a Covid-19 vaccine to be approved and widely available. This is a milestone that the company is expected to reach by the end of 2021.
"I hope that happens sooner, but we expect it to be the end of next year," said Scott Kirby during an interview on CBS's Face the Nation.
Kirby's comments are in line with Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the country's leading infectious disease experts. However, they stand in contrast to recent statements by President Donald Trump, who has suggested that the US get back to normal soon as he campaigns for a second term ahead of the November contest against Democrat Joe Biden.
The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the aviation industry, virtually paralyzed business travel, prevented US citizens from traveling internationally, and restricted vacation travel.
Kirby said that barring new federal laws, United will be forced to lay off 16,000 workers as early as next month after the existing funds allocated in March run out. He said that if sales fell 85%, the company continues to burn $ 25 million a day.
"In a business like ours, demand won't rise until people feel safe being with other people, and that requires a vaccine," Kirby said. "And that's just the reality. Some companies can recover sooner, but in aviation and in all of the industries we support, it will take longer."
It is unlikely that a new Covid-19 bailout law will be published before October. Republicans and Democrats are bogged down on the level of government support for the unemployed and community funding. Last week, an attempt by the GOP to pass a so-called "thin" auxiliary bill failed in the Senate, where the party holds a majority.
"The reality is that without further government support to the whole economy, there will be more layoffs," said Kirby.
The timing of approval and distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine remains uncertain, depending on the results of clinical studies. US regulators have yet to approve a vaccine as safe and effective, although there are a number of candidates late in the process.
Trump has suggested that a vaccine could be approved before Election Day, November 3rd, leading to allegations by Democrats that he is politicizing the scientific process. Trump said Thursday that the US would "go around the corner" because of the pandemic.
Experts, including Fauci, said it was possible for a vaccine to be approved by the end of the year, and possibly even by November, but warned it will take longer for the country to return to normal.
In an interview on MSNBC on Friday, Fauci said the return to normal could take "well into 2021, maybe even towards the end of 2021".