The US Department of Transportation (DOT) will allow airlines to suspend service to at least five additional locations on their networks in an ongoing process to minimize the costs of operating flights amid coronavirus while keeping the USA connected.

The CARES Act gives authority to the US Transportation and Treasury departments to determine conditions for airlines to follow in exchange for federal assistance. In response to petitions from carriers, labour groups and trade associations, the DOT on 12 May published a notice explaining a strategy to reduce service commitments beyond exemptions already granted to different carriers.

“Carriers contend that services to certain points in their networks are unreasonable, impracticable, costly, and challenging to complete in light of public health and safety concerns,” the DOT states.

Airlines will be allowed to exempt 5% of the locations in their service obligation list, or five locations, whichever is greater, and will have until 18 May to submit such requests to DOT. Essential Air Service obligations, including service to certain remote areas, will not be affected.

“If a carrier seeks to exempt points where the carrier is the only covered carrier at that point, the department will not provide an exemption,” DOT says.

A list provided by the DOT estimates the potential number of locations each recipient of CARES Act assistance may be eligible to exempt. United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines could each be eligible to exempt 11 airports. Allegiant Air could be permitted to drop six locations, while JetBlue Airways, Frontier Airlines and Southwest Airlines could each be eligible to drop five.