Airbus 330 photo by Associated Press.

PARIS (AP) — France’s government is pumping 15 billion euros ($16.9 billion) in rescue money into the pandemic-battered aerospace industry, in hopes of saving its hundreds of thousands of jobs and keeping plane maker Airbus and national airline Air France globally competitive.

In exchange for aid, companies will be required to invest more and faster in electric, hydrogen or other lower-emission aircraft, as France aims to make its aviation industry the “cleanest in the world.”

The deal was negotiated with unions, who said they would stay vigilant about job guarantees. Some environmental activists expressed skepticism about green ambitions for such a high-emission industry. “We will do everything to support this French industry that is so critical for our sovereignty, our jobs and our economy,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said, unveiling the plan alongside the ministers of transport, defense and environment – a sign of how important the aeronautic sector is in France.

As travel restrictions grounded most flights to keep the virus contained, the fallout cascaded across the industry, from airlines to airports to engine makers, maintenance contracts and spare parts suppliers. Airlines around the world are forecast to lose $84 billion this year, with revenue halved. Some have filed for bankruptcy or sought bailouts to survive the near-shutdown in their activity, and officials predict the industry will take years to recover.

“Financially, 2020 will go down as the worst year in the history of aviation», said Alexandre de Juniac, head of the International Air Transport Association, which represents 290 airlines. «That’s why government financial relief was and remains crucial as airlines burn through cash.”

«The recovery will be long,” Le Maire warned. The government predicted it will be 2023 before the industry reaches pre-crisis levels. Among bailouts elsewhere, major U.S. airlines reached agreements with the Treasury Department for billions of dollars in grants and loans, Lufthansa won a $10 billion German government rescue and Cathay Pacific announced Tuesday it’s seeking $5 billion from the Hong Kong government to survive, reports Associated Press.

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