Virgin Atlantic cuts 3,000 jobs and ends Gatwick flights

Airline founded by Sir Richard Branson will cut a third of its workforce as coronavirus decimates demand for air travel

Virgin Atlantic plans to cut more than 3,000 jobs, dealing a fresh blow to the airline industry that has been brought to its knees by coronavirus.

The airline piled fresh misery on Gatwick, saying it would turn its back on the airport where billionaire Sir Richard Branson launched Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural flight nearly 36 years ago.

Chief executive Shai Weiss said: “We have weathered many storms ... but none has been as devastating as Covid-19.”

The redundancies mean more than 18,000 losses have been announced in the past seven days across three airlines as the sector battens down the hatches and prepares for a “new normal” of significantly reduced air travel for several years.

British Airways last week raised the spectre of pulling out of Gatwick and the airport’s third-biggest airline, Norwegian, is expected to reduce operations once the airline has completed a bailout of its finances from its government.

Prior to the global crisis, easyJet, British Airways and Norwegian accounted for three-quarters of Gatwick’s flights.

Virgin Atlantic has been fighting to secure its future for several weeks after the Covid-19 pandemic brought scheduled passenger services to a standstill. Ministers snubbed a request for a £500m state loan last month.

The airline, 49pc owned by US carrier Delta, is hunting for new investment with “all options on the table”. Tuesday’s 3,150 job cuts equal or about a third of the airline's workforce, will be finalised following a consultation with unions Balpa and Unite.

“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,” Mr Weiss said. “I wish it was not the case, but we will have to reduce the number of people we employ.”

Unite called the redundancies “another devastating blow to the UK’s beleaguered aviation industry”. Assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “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.”

Balpa, the pilots’ union, repeated a demand for ministers to take action. General secretary Brian Strutton said: “Why is the Government sitting on its hands while aviation plunges further towards a death spiral? Government should call a moratorium on job losses in aviation and lead a planned recovery.”

A spokesman for Gatwick airport said: “This news will be devastating for its staff and the many local businesses that supply and support the airline at the airport and its HQ in Crawley, however we will continue to work with Virgin Atlantic to get them flying again from Gatwick.

“We remain very optimistic about the long-term prospects of Gatwick Airport and our resilience as a business, and having remained open throughout this pandemic we are in a strong position to extend our current operations quickly to meet demand.”  

Virgin will also cut costs by retiring its seven Boeing 747 Jumbos, while its four A330 planes will go out of service in early 2022.

Underlining the devastation facing airlines, low-cost carrier Wizz Air - which is continuing to run flights despite the current lockdown - said traffic in April had fallen by 97.6pc.

Meanwhile, during another day of turbulence for the aviation industry, it emerged that Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary had launched legal action against Sweden’s €455m bailout of airline SAS.