Budget airline easyJet is preparing to axe 4,500 staff and permanently close three major UK airport bases as part of a huge restructuring following the global coronavirus pandemic.
The company said hundreds of pilot roles are at risk – with formal consultations starting on Tuesday.
It comes a month after the low-cost carrier warned it may need to reduce staff numbers by up to 30%, to help “optimise its network and bases as a result of the crisis”.
The travel giant is expected to lose up to 4,500 jobs across its entire network including around 1,900 UK employees.
Johan Lundgren, easyJet CEO, said: “These are very difficult proposals to put forward in what is an unprecedented and difficult time for the airline and the industry as a whole.
“We are focused on doing what is right for the company and its long term health and success so we can protect jobs going forward.”
Around 80% of easyJet’s UK pilots currently remain furloughed on the Coronavirus job retention scheme.
“Unfortunately the lower demand environment means we need fewer aircraft and have less opportunity for work for our people – we are committed to working constructively with our employee representatives across the network with the aim of minimising job losses as far as possible,” Lundgren continued.
“These proposals are no reflection on our people at Stansted, Southend and Newcastle, who have all worked tirelessly and have been fully committed to providing great service for our customers.”
The company said it has now informed all affected employees, with staff placed on consultation today.
It comes despite the firm being handed a £600million loan from the UK taxpayer under the Government Covid Corporate Financing Facility.
Union Balpa said it is “shocked at the size of potential job losses” which equates to nearly 1-in-3 of easyJet pilots in the UK.
Brian Strutton, Balpa General Secretary, said: “We know that aviation is in the midst of the COVID crisis and we had been expecting easyJet to make an announcement of temporary measures to help the airline through to recovery.
“But this seems an excessive over-reaction and easyJet won’t find a supply of pilots waiting to come back when the recovery takes place over the next two years.
“EasyJet paid £174m out to shareholders, got agreements to furlough staff to protect cash, got £600m from the government, has boasted of having £2.4bn in liquidity, and ticket sales are going through the roof so fast they cannot get pilots back off furlough quickly enough – so why the panic?
“It doesn’t add up. We are meeting easyJet today and we will be fighting to save every single job.
“This is more evidence that aviation in the UK is caught in a death spiral of despair and individual airlines are flailing around without direction.”
The announcement comes as insiders warn up to 124,000 jobs in the aviation industry could be lost this year as the sector struggles to bounce back from the pandemic.
British Airways is also currently in talks with Balpa over cuts that could result in up to 12,000 job losses. The company is reportedly preparing to make 350 pilots redundant and place a further 300 in a ‘pool for re-hire’.
The airline is also considering pay cuts for 36,000 employees as a result of the coronavirus lockdown.
It is understood that if a deal is agreed, most pilots will be from BA’s London Gatwick (LGW) hub, which the airline has previously warned it may close permanently after lockdown.
In a memo to staff on April 30, managing director Adam Carson wrote: “As you know, we suspended our Gatwick flying schedule at the start of April and there is no certainty as to when or if these services can or will return.”
Gatwick’s chief Stewart Wingate has appealed to BA, as well as Virgin Atlantic, which said it could follow suit.
A decision to pull out of the airport would have an “enormous” impact on Gatwick and the people of Crawley, Wingate said.
Ryanair is also proposing pay cuts of up to 20% for flight crew and 10% for attendants across Europe, to “compete with rivals that have received state bailouts.”
All flights in and out of the UK were grounded in March after the country went into lockdown following a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in Europe.
On July 6, many will resume again, though the Foreign Commonwealth Office says you should still only travel where absolutely necessary.
Easyjet – owned by billionaire Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou – is preparing to restart flights to Europe on July 1, with plans to serve 75% of its network by August.
From Wednesday, it will operate around 500 flights per day across its European network, including over 900 flights per week to and from the UK.