Virgin Atlantic to cut 3,150 jobs 'to safeguard our future'

Airline is embarking on a number of cost-cutting measures, including moving its base to London Heathrow from Gatwick

FILE PHOTO: A Virgin Atlantic passenger aircraft prepares for take off from Gatwick Airport in southern England, Britain, October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

British airline Virgin Atlantic said on Tuesday it planned to cut 3,150 jobs and would move its London Gatwick operations to Heathrow airport as it counts the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The spread of the novel coronavirus has virtually brought airports around the globe to a standstill, leaving airlines taking drastic steps to make savings.

"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," Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss said in a statement.

"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," he added.

British Airways said last week it could cut as many as 12,000 jobs, over a quarter of its total, as a result of the impact of the coronavirus, with many countries advising against or restricting travel in a bid to halt its spread.

Those restrictions have resulted in a collapse in airline traffic. On Tuesday, Ireland's Ryanair posted a 99.6 per cent fall in passenger numbers in April, while smaller low-cost carrier Wizz Air said numbers plunged 97.6 per cent.

Virgin Atlantic said it continued to explore all available options to get extra funding through talks with the government and other stakeholders about possible support for the airline.

The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) said it was a terrible blow for the industry, and urged the government to stop "prevaricating" and help the aviation sector.

"Government should call a moratorium on job losses in aviation and lead a planned recovery," Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton said.

Virgin Atlantic is based in Britain and is 51 per cent owned by Richard Branson's Virgin group and 49 per cent owned by U.S. airline Delta.

Among other steps announced on Tuesday, the airline said it would move its flying programme at London Gatwick to the city's bigger Heathrow airport, but intended to keep its slots at Gatwick to allow it to return if customer demand rebounded.

British Airways has also suspended operations at Gatwick and has told pilots there is no certainty over when those services might return.

Virgin Atlantic also said it would no longer use all its seven Boeing 747-400s, and that four Airbus A330-200s would be retired in early 2022 as planned.