WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury Department said on Friday it planned to conduct a series of auctions to sell its warrants to purchase stock in U.S. airlines it received after Congress approved $54 billion in COVID-19 air carrier assistance in 2020 and 2021.

Out of $54 billion awarded, airlines were required to repay $14 billion. Treasury received warrants to purchase stock at the share price of the time of the government awards. Airlines accepting government assistance were prohibited from furloughs or firing workers and faced limits on executive compensation and bans on stock buybacks and dividends that expired in September 2022.

American Airlines received $12.6 billion in government assistance followed by Delta Air Lines getting $11.9 billion, United Airlines received $10.9 billion, and Southwest Airlines received $7.2 billion.

Congress approved $54 billion in three rounds covering much of U.S. airline payroll costs for 18 months.

The U.S. government also extended $25 billion in low-cost loans to airlines. The warrants were worth about $357 million in May 2022, according to a draft congressional report seen by Reuters. Treasury did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the current value.

Delta declined to comment. The other major airlines did not immediately comment.

The auctions are expected to commence the week of June 3, Treasury said.

Many other countries' aviation COVID-19 assistance required a higher percentage of funds repayment, while other U.S. industries did not get the same government financial support. U.S. airlines spurned conditions some lawmakers sought to add like cutting carbon emissions.

The COVID crisis led to a historic collapse in air travel demand as U.S. air passenger travel fell by 60% in 2020 to the lowest level since 1984, down more than 550 million passengers, as airlines slashed costs and struggled to survive.

Since then, air travel have returned to pre-COVID levels and could hit a new record this year.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul and David Gregorio)

By David Shepardson