Virgin Atlantic will cut over 3,000 jobs -- around a third of staff -- as the coronavirus pandemic grounds planes worldwide, the British carrier part-owned by tycoon Richard Branson announced on Tuesday. It comes one week after British Airways announced plans to slash up to 12,000 jobs because of the COVID-19 fallout.
With the virus having decimated international air travel -- Ryanair on Friday said it would axe 3,000 jobs -- Virgin said it was obliged to make its own cuts to preserve its financial future, adding it was in talks with the UK government about potential support.
Virgin Atlantic said in a statement that "for the airline to emerge from the crisis, regrettably it must reduce the number of people employed and today the company is announcing a planned reduction of 3,150 jobs across all functions". Chief executive Shai Weiss said it was "crucial" the airline returned to profit in 2021.
"After 9/11 and the global financial crisis, we took similar painful measures but fortunately many members of our team were back flying with us within a couple of years. "Depending on how long the pandemic lasts and the period of time our planes are grounded for, hopefully, the same will happen this time," he added.
Virgin said it would restructure company operations as a result of the job losses, including pausing flights in and out of London's Gatwick airport. Virgin said it would switch the flights to London's Heathrow airport, "with the intention of retaining its slot portfolio at London Gatwick, so it can return in line with customer demand".
The announcements come around two weeks after Branson warned that Virgin Atlantic would collapse unless it received financial aid from the UK government to weather the coronavirus crisis. Virgin is reportedly seeking £500 million ($612 million, 564 million euros) in state help.
British no-frills airline EasyJet recently secured a £600-million loan from the British government, which is dealing with airlines on a case-by-case basis rather than heeding Virgin's demand for a multi-billion-pound state-funded pot for the entire UK airline sector.
In a recent letter to staff, billionaire Branson referred to "lots of comments" about his wealth and a duty to prop up Virgin Atlantic and offer financial help to staff from his own pocket.
But he insisted that figures being published regarding his net worth were based on the value of Virgin businesses before the coronavirus pandemic, rather than "cash in a bank account ready to withdraw". BALPA, a British union representing pilots, hit out at Tuesday's "devastating" announcement that it said would affect 426 pilots.
"Our members and all staff in Virgin Atlantic will be shocked by the scale of this bombshell. We will be challenging Virgin very hard to justify this," said BALPA General Secretary Brian Strutton. "Government should call a moratorium on job losses in aviation and lead a planned recovery," he added.