Chicago Sun-Times - - BUSINESS - BY DAVID ROEDER, BUSI­NESS & LA­BOR RE­PORTER droeder@sun­times.com | @Roed­erDavid

United Air­lines, cit­ing a “very bleak pic­ture” of con­tin­ued busi­ness de­clines be­cause of the pan­demic’s spread, said Thurs­day it is con­sid­er­ing a fur­lough for about a third of its pi­lots.

The warn­ing came in a mes­sage to pi­lots from Bryan Quigley, the air­line’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent of flight op­er­a­tions. Quigley said the air­line is con­sid­er­ing cut­ting its num­ber of pi­lots by 3,900 into 2021, up from 2,250 an­nounced in a cut­back plan ear­lier this month, when United de­tailed fur­loughs for al­most half its to­tal work­force.

Quigley said that since July 4, book­ing trends that had shown some im­prove­ment have re­sumed a steep dive, with the most re­cent seven-day rolling aver­age reg­is­ter­ing an 85% rev­enue de­cline. “De­spite the op­ti­mism you may hear, de­mand has not mean­ing­fully im­proved, and with­out very tough de­ci­sions, this is sim­ply not sus­tain­able for us,” he said. Quigley added that at the end of the cur­rent quarter, United ex­pects “a daily cash burn of about $25 mil­lion per day; that’s $2.3 bil­lion in just three months.”

The only al­ter­na­tives to deeper cuts, he said, are a new round of fed­eral sup­port for the air­line in­dus­try and an agree­ment from the Air Line Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion In­ter­na­tional for more cost cuts, in­clud­ing early re­tire­ments. The union had ac­cepted such a pack­age gov­ern­ing the ear­lier re­duc­tions.

Quigley said the in­dus­try doesn’t ex­pect pas­sen­ger de­mand to re­turn to 50% of pre-COVID-19 lev­els un­til a vac­cine is de­vel­oped, a prospect ex­ec­u­tives think is un­likely un­til at least late 2021. In the worst case, 3,900 pi­lot fur­loughs won’t be enough, he said.

The pi­lots’ union had no im­me­di­ate com­ment on the mes­sage.

Sup­port for United un­der the CARES Act re­quires pay­rolls to be held steady through Sept. 30. The Chicago-based car­rier plans to be­gin fur­loughs Oct. 1 but has joined with avi­a­tion unions to lobby Congress for ex­tend­ing aid through at least March of next year.

United has got­ten $5 bil­lion in grants and loans un­der the CARES Act and is in line for $4.5 bil­lion from the Trea­sury Depart­ment se­cured by war­rants for its shares.

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