Alaska Airlines’ parent company is making progress on stanching the flood of red ink caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it still burned through $5.5 million in cash per day last month.
Alaska Air Group said Thursday that last month it spent $170 million more than it took in. And that’s an improvement, down from $260 million in April, or $8.7 million per day.
When the pandemic first floored the airline business in March, Alaska that month burned through $400 million — meaning it spent that much more than the cash it collected.
During Alaska Air Group’s last quarterly earnings teleconference in early May, CEO Brad Tilden said cutting the cash burn rate is a priority so the company can survive the collapse of air travel and get through to the other side of the pandemic.
Tilden set a goal of reducing the cash outflow to $200 million in June, and reaching zero cash burn by year’s end. Tuesday’s filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicates Alaska is ahead of the initial reduction plan, although the filing restates the same target.
“We continue to expect to achieve a $200 million per month cash burn rate in June, and remain focused on reducing it to zero by year end,” the filing states.
As well as detailing Alaska’s current cash position, the filing lays out the continued impact of the pandemic on air travel.
In May, with many of Alaska’s jets in storage on the ground, the number of seats the airline flew was approximately 79% below the levels of a year earlier. The jets it did fly were approximately 40% full.
Seeing only “modest week over week improvements in demand,” Alaska said that it plans next month to continue to fly a reduced fleet, offering only 70% to 75% of the seat capacity it had a year ago.
As of June 1, Alaska says it had “cash and short-term investments, of approximately $2.8 billion.”
In April, the government provided Alaska $992 million in relief aid as it doled out payroll-protection grants and loans to the major airlines.
And under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Alaska expects to receive another approximately $29 million in payroll-protection funds for its baggage handling subsidiary McGee Air Services.
The paycheck-protection funding ensures that employees will be retained and paid through the end of September. However, in October, layoffs are likely as the airline shrinks to reduce the cash burn.
Alaska also continues to negotiate with the U.S. Treasury the terms of $1.1 billion in federal loan funding through a separate program authorized under the CARES Act.
In Tuesday’s filing, Alaska said it obtained a further $88 million in secured financing on May 22.
At April’s rate of cash burn, that hoard of $2.8 billion would run out in less than a year. At the May rate, it would last just over 16 months. While that’s progress, there’s clearly still a hard path ahead to achieve zero cash burn by year’s end.
Separately, in a response to the protests and riots in cities across the country in reaction to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Alaska is relocating flight crews staying overnight in affected cities from downtown areas to hotels near the airport.
According to a memo sent May 30 to pilots from the Alaska pilots’ union, those cities include Baltimore, Boston, Columbus, Indianapolis, Nashville, Philadelphia, San Jose, and St. Louis.
On Sunday, CEO Tilden sent a message to all Alaska Air employees, including those at Alaska Airlines and regional carrier Horizon Air, “to acknowledge the pain, anxiety and stress that many of you, particularly black, brown and other employees of color, are appropriately feeling in the wake of recent racist attacks in our country.”
“Our country has made necessary and difficult changes in freedom and liberty and justice when we’ve collectively decided that enough is enough, and we must do better,” Tilden wrote.