Published on Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Virgin to shed 3,150 jobs, shut stores and suspend Gatwick flights

Virgin is to shed 3,150 jobs, cut its airline fleet and shut 15% of its travel agencies to try to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

The airline will also temporarily pull out of Gatwick and consolidate its operations at Heathrow and Manchester when the lockdown ends.

Unions, whose members have started a 45-day consultation period with the airline today, urged the Government to step in with loans to prevent the loss of a third of the airline's workforce.

News of the redundancies follows hard on the heels of British Airways' announcement that it is shedding 12,000 jobs and Ryanair's decision to axe 3,000.

The pilots' union, BALPA, said 426 pilots were at risk of losing their jobs with Virgin. General secretary Brian Strutton said: "This is another terrible blow for the industry and is evidence of the dire situation facing UK aviation.

"Without immediate action by the government we will see the once world leading industry decimated."

Unite, which represents Virgin's cabin crew and check-in staff said the loss of 3,150 jobs was 'another devastating blow to the UK aviation sector' adding that it was 'even more urgent that government steps forward with a comprehensive financial support package for the industry'.

Unite national officer for civil air transport Oliver Richardson also urged Virgin 'not to act in haste' while the Government's Job Retention Scheme is still in place. 

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland also warned that Virgin's decision to pull out of Gatwick. albeit only until traffic picks up again, could have a dire impact on the airport, wtih BA understood to be considering pulling out too.

 "The Virgin announcement that it is pulling out of Gatwick follows that of Norwegian and BA indicating that they are reducing operations and pulling out of Gatwick," she said.

"There have been 18,000 job losses announced in the UK aviation sector in the last week  alone and this makes the case even more strongly that the aviation industry-specific package Unite has consistently called for, and the government has promised, must now be delivered.

"The UK has world class airline and aerospace companies - highly developed and world leading, but the sector needs support in the period of recovery from this pandemic, if it is to retain this position.

"Thousands of jobs are dependent on the sector regaining its position. Other governments have delivered support to their aviation industry and it's now time for the UK to make good on their promise and do the same." 

Virgin Atlantic said it will no longer use all its Boeing 747s and it plans to retire four A330-200 aircraft in early 2022, leaving it with a reduced fleet of 36 twin-engine aircraft.

It also plans to close 15% of its 57 travel stores this year and rebrand its tour operator as Virgin Atlantic Holidays. It said it will continue to focus on its partnership with Next and on digital distribution.

Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said: "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.

"However, to safeguard our future and emerge a sustainably profitable business, now is the time for further action to reduce our costs, preserve cash and to protect as many jobs as possible. It is crucial that we return to profitability in 2021. This will mean taking steps to reshape and resize Virgin Atlantic in line with demand, while always keeping our people and customers at the heart of all we do.

"I wish it was not the case, but we will have to reduce the number of people we employ. The commitment of our people throughout this crisis has been nothing but amazing, and the embodiment of true Virgin spirit. As we have navigated the Covid-19 crisis, I have been humbled at every step by their solidarity. In times of adversity we must support each other so that ultimately, we can emerge a stronger and better Virgin Atlantic.

"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.

"Our vision for Virgin Atlantic remains the same - to become the most loved travel company, for our people and our customers. Once the crisis stabilises, Virgin Atlantic has an important role to play in contributing to the UK's economic recovery, providing essential connectivity and competition."

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