By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, Dec 3 (Reuters) - The leaders of the U.S. House Transportation Committee have asked a major airline industry trade group to answer questions about $54 billion in government payroll aid carriers got.
Committee chair Peter DeFazio, a Democrat, and the panel's top Republican Sam Graves, asked Airlines for America (A4A) to answer questions about staffing reductions despite the taxpayer assistance.
The lawmakers in a letter late Thursday noted questions have been raised about disruptions at two major U.S. carriers in recent months. They asked in the letter if that is the result of "a shortage of workers in key operational areas, despite the approximately $50 billion in aid" from Congress.
"We expect airlines to take whatever measures are available to ameliorate any short-staffing issues and begin to address longer-term workforce shortages."
The letter comes as the Senate Commerce Committee has invited the chief executives of seven major U.S. airlines to testify at an oversight hearing now expected to take place Dec. 15.
Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat who chairs the panel, is inviting the CEOs of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines , Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Alaska Airlines and Spirit Airlines to testify, Reuters reported earlier this week.
Many of those CEOs are expected to be in Washington on Dec. 15 to take part in an A4A meeting, officials said.
Cantwell said the CEOs should testify.
"I would encourage them to show up," Cantwell told Reuters on Wednesday. "I think it is bad faith not to show up ... The public deserves to know some answers."
She added "we're going to do our oversight role because this was a lot of money."
The airlines declined comment or did not immediately comment.
Starting in March 2020, Congress approved three separate rounds of taxpayer bailouts totaling $54 billion to cover much of U.S. airlines' payroll costs through Sept. 30 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Airlines that received government assistance were not allowed to issue involuntary layoffs or cut worker pay. They also had to limit executive compensation and halt share buybacks and dividend payments.
(Reporting by David Shepardson Editing by Marguerita Choy)