The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has released a notice of adjustments of service obligations, paving the way for a reduction of minimum service obligations for airlines benefitting from the federal assistance package under the CARES Act.

"With this notice as the initial step, the Department will use a systematic process to allow covered carriers to reduce the number of points they must serve as a proportion of their total service obligation, subject to certain restrictions," the DOT said.

The DOT plans to allow carriers to exempt from their service obligation 5% of points served by them or five points, whichever is higher. It said that exemptions would be available to all carriers, regardless of their size. The largest carriers - American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines - will be allowed to seek exemptions for 11 points each. Other airlines are permitted to seek six or fewer exemptions. However, several smaller airlines, including Air Flamenco, Air Sunshine, Bemidji Aviation Services, Seaflight, Elite Airways, Friday Harbor Seaplanes, Gem Air, GoJet Airlines, Grand Canyon Airlines, Grand Canyon Helicopters, Kenmore Air, Key Lime Air, New England Airlines, Pacific Airways, Rectrix Aviation, Island Air Express, Seaborne Virgin Islands, Smokey Bay Air, Star Marianas Air, Tradewind Aviation, Trans States Airlines, Taquan Air, and Via Airlines will be allowed to seek exemptions for all points they currently serve.

Carriers wishing to reduce their minimum service obligations have to submit a request detailing the list of points and the rationale by May 18.

The DOT underlined that the process for granting the reductions under the newly issued notice comes on top of the exemptions available under the general terms of the CARES Act. Exemptions granted under this new procedure will be temporary and will not remove the affected points from the carrier's minimum service obligation list.

"Considering the range of exemption requests received and the circumstances that the industry continues to face six weeks after the Department published Order 2020-4-2, the Department believes that the Secretary's authority to determine whether it is reasonable and practicable to require a carrier to maintain a particular service provides the Department with ample authority to consider and grant additional, incremental relief for carriers to reduce their service obligations consistent with the goals of the CARES Act," the DOT said.

The DOT said that it would make sure that, taking into account all exemptions, each point served through scheduled flights before March 1 will continue to be served by at least one airline.