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An American Airlines Boeing 737 jet sits at a gate at Washington's Reagan National airport with the U.S. Capitol building in the background in Washington, April 29, 2020.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

American Airlines Group Inc. expects to have between 10 per cent and 20 per cent more workers than needed in July, 2021, chief executive Doug Parker told employees at a town hall this week, and said that avoiding furloughs will be difficult.

Weathering a sharp hit to business owing to the coronavirus pandemic, American and other U.S. airlines have warned of furloughs in October, which is when government payroll aid for airlines expires, but said they were hoping to avoid them.

“It’s going to be even harder than I thought,” Mr. Parker said at an employee town hall on Wednesday, adding that “revenue is not coming back as fast as we’d like.”

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A video recording of the town hall, which showed Mr. Parker wearing a protective face mask, was reviewed by Reuters.

As of the end of last year, American had 133,700 employees, more than any other U.S. airline.

In October, American expects to have between 20 per cent and 30 per cent more workers than needed, Mr. Parker said, while adding that furlough decisions could revolve more around the July, 2021, forecast of 10 per cent to 20 per cent excess workers, with potentially less pain for pilots than other employees such as flight attendants.

“It really makes zero sense to go furlough a pilot in October if you’re going to need that pilot again in July,” Mr. Parker said, noting the costly training needed to bring a pilot back from a furlough.

American’s management has shared the job numbers with unions and was working on solutions, Mr. Parker said. The number of extra flight attendants is expected to be in the higher ranger, Mr. Parker added.

Under the CARES Act that gave the U.S. aviation sector a US$32-billion bailout to cover payroll, airlines cannot force any involuntary furloughs before October and have been trying to encourage employees to accept voluntary exit deals.

Major aviation unions have asked the U.S. Congress to consider extending the payroll support package through March.

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