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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The airline industry got a $58 billion lifeline in the coronavirus federal aid package. But the path is unclear for these companies, whose operations and prospects will be forever changed by the global pandemic.

Why it matters: People may want to minimize travel for the foreseeable future. Investors, analysts and industry watchers are trying to determine how much airlines will need to spend — and how much more in lost revenue they'll see — while they adapt to the new reality.

The backdrop: Revenue and passenger loads have plummeted at an unprecedented rate for the U.S. airline industry, and no one knows what's ahead.

  • Major airlines' share prices have been cut in half since the global pandemic started to roil the stock markets.
  • One Wall Street analyst is withdrawing his price target for American Airlines altogether — a sign that the waters are so murky that taking a guess at where the stock could be by year-end isn't worth it.
  • "Even as Delta is burning more than $60 million in cash every day, we know we still haven’t seen the bottom," CEO Ed Bastian said last week.

Yes, but: Even when the economy comes back to life and social distancing measures are relaxed, huge questions for airlines will remain.

  • Will people fly at the rate they did before, particularly business travelers who have grown accustomed to holding meetings virtually? Will passengers be more skittish about packing together in tight rows of seats, and will carriers accommodate their concerns?
  • It's "possible that a number of airlines will have gone bust and uneconomic discounts will be necessary to attract demand back,” Olivier Ponti, vice president at travel-industry data firm ForwardKeys, told Reuters.

What to watch: Most of the major U.S. airlines — including American, Delta, United and JetBlue — submitted applications for federal aid on Friday, per CNBC.

  • It's still unclear how much each company requested, or what terms they'll have to meet in order to receive the money.
  • If any of the companies accept aid, the government has a right to take a stake in the businesses, but may opt for other forms of compensation. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin gets the final say.

The bottom line: Airlines are fighting for survival, and an uncertain environment awaits them on the other side of the pandemic.

  • "We are not expecting to re-start the same industry that we closed a few weeks ago ... the industry processes will need to adapt," Alexandre de Juniac, CEO of International Air Transport Association, a global airlines group, said Tuesday.

Go deeper

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Biden freezes U.S. arms deals with Saudi Arabia and UAE

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The Biden administration has put on hold two big arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which were approved in the final weeks of the Trump administration, a State Department official tells Axios.

Why it matters: The sales of F-35 jets and attack drones to the UAE and a large supply of munitions to Saudi Arabia will be paused pending a review. That signals a major policy shift from the Trump era, and may herald sharp tensions with both Gulf countries.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
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Robert Downey Jr. launches VC funds to help save the planet

Robert Downey Jr. on Wednesday announced the launch of two venture capital funds focused on startups in the sustainability sector, the latest evolution of a project he launched two years ago called Footprint Collective.

Between the lines: This is a bit of life imitating art, as Downey Jr. spent 11 films portraying a character who sought to save the planet (or, in some cases, the universe).

DHS warns of "heightened threat" because of domestic extremism

Supporters of former President Trump protest inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday issued an advisory warning of a "heightened threat environment" in the U.S. because of "ideologically-motivated violent extremists."

Why it matters: DHS believes the threat of violence will persist for "weeks" following President Biden's inauguration. The extremists include those who opposed the presidential transition, people spurred by "grievances fueled by false narratives" and "anger over COVID-19 restrictions ... and police use of force[.]"