Airbus Americas CEO on air travel safety, mask requirements, Boeing and more


Wednesday was a rough day for airline stocks. The major carriers all saw their stocks fall sharply on worries about a surge in Covid-19 cases and a 14-day quarantine being imposed on some travelers by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Jeffrey Knittel, CEO of Airbus Americas, joins “Squawk Box” and CNBC’s Phil LeBeau to discuss the state of the industry amid the pandemic.

A patchwork of government travel restrictions is “not helpful” to revitalizing air travel demand devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, the top U.S. executive at aircraft manufacturer Airbus said Thursday.

The governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are now asking travelers arriving from a host of states including Florida and Texas that have posted rising numbers of Covid-19 cases to quarantine for 14 days. Some of the states took similar measures earlier this year for travelers coming from New York as cases were spiking in the state.

“This is not helpful. When there are restrictions by state it creates obstacles,” Airbus Americas CEO Jeff Knittel said in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “The fact is we can only control so much. Our job is to create the safest environment possible for the passengers so when they’re ready to fly … and give them the comfort they expect from us and will receive from us.”

Knittel praised airlines for a raising cash recently, calling it a smart choice to bolster their balance sheets amid low interest rates to counter the pandemic’s impact on revenue. American, Delta and United are among the carriers that have recently sold debt or equity.

Airlines and aircraft manufacturers like Airbus and rival Boeing are scrambling to ensure passengers feel safe flying during the pandemic, either ramping up cleaning procedures or explaining cabin air circulation.

Major U.S. carriers now require passengers wear face masks or other coverings on board in an effort to protect crews and customers from Covid-19. There are no federal rules requiring a mask onboard and Knittel said that isn’t necessary as long as there are consequences.

“If someone were to take an action, like take their mask off, the flight attendants will address it and I think that will be under control,” he said. “I’m not a big believer that we need federal regulations to implement the obvious.”

Delta’s CEO, Ed Bastian, said in a staff note Thursday that passengers who don’t comply would be banned.

“We take the requirement to wear a mask very seriously. Customers who choose not to comply with this or any other safety requirement risk losing their future flight privileges with Delta,” he said. “So far, there have thankfully only been a handful of cases, but we have already banned some passengers from future travel on Delta for refusing to wear masks on board.”

American last week said it would prohibit a passenger who refused to wear a mask until such coverings are no longer required onboard.

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