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Virgin Atlantic has announced it is to cut more than 3 000 jobs in the United Kingdom (UK) and end its operation at Gatwick airport.
The shock announcement comes after rival British Airways said it could not rule out closing its Gatwick operation. Pilots’ union Balpa described it as “devastating”.
Many airlines have been struggling as the coronavirus pandemic has brought global travel to a virtual standstill.
The airline currently employs about 10 000 people.
Virgin Atlantic, which is in the process of applying for emergency loans from the government, said that jobs will be lost across the board.
“We have weathered many storms since our first flight 36 years ago but none has been as devastating as COVID-19 and the associated loss of life and livelihood for so many,” said Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss.
Balpa the union said: “This is another terrible blow for the industry and is evidence of the dire situation facing UK aviation.”
Balpa general secretary, Brian Strutton, said: “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.”
Virgin Atlantic also said it will move its flying programme from Gatwick to Heathrow. It said it intended to keep its slots at Gatwick “so it can return in line with customer demand”.
However, Weiss said there was no certainty when the air travel industry would recover from the coronavirus crisis.
“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.”
Gatwick said the company was “very saddened’ to hear of Virgin Atlantic’s plans.
The airline has flown from the airport since 1984, and Gatwick said: “Virgin Atlantic will always be welcome at Gatwick and we will continue our efforts to explore ways to restart the airline's operations as soon as possible, in the knowledge that they intend to retain their slot portfolio at Gatwick for when demand returns.”
British Airways, which is Gatwick’s second-biggest customer, has indicated that it also might not restart its Gatwick operation.
If BA does pull out, it would carry deeper ramifications.
Just a few weeks ago, several UK airports had elaborate, expensive and very controversial expansion plans in the pipeline. The big ones were operating at or very near capacity.
But the whole aviation sector is living a new reality.
When lockdown restrictions ease and flight schedules are increased again, there will be fewer passengers, fewer and probably more expensive flights and sadly thousands of cabin crew, pilots and ground staff will have lost their jobs.
And the consensus is that it will take years for the aviation sector to bounce back to where it was before the pandemic. (BBC)