Union accuses airlines of exaggerating impact of pandemic to make…

Airlines are exaggerating the impact of coronavirus to make job cuts as they ‘take advantage of crisis’, pilots union warns

  • Brian Strutton, general secretary of Balpa, spoke to Transport Select Committee
  • Mr Strutton accused airlines of ‘exaggerating the problem’ of the Covid-19 crisis
  • British Airways’ owner has announced up to 12,000 jobs could be cut 
  • Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic have also announced planned redundancies 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

A pilots’ union chief has told MPs airlines are ‘taking advantage’ of the coronavirus crisis’ impact on the industry in order to cut thousands of jobs.  

Brian Strutton, general secretary of Balpa, told MPs that carriers are looking to “take advantage of the crisis”.

Up to 12,000 jobs at British Airways could be axed, while Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic have announced their own plans to make thousands of staff redundant.

IAG, which owns British Airways, has said it does not expect demand for air travel to recover before 2023, while Gatwick Airport has said it could take up to four years.

Giving evidence to the Commons Transport Select Committee, Mr Strutton said: ‘I believe that airlines are exaggerating the problem.

As British Airways planes are grounded at airports across the UK, pilots’ union Balpa has said airlines are ‘exaggerating’ the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the industry 

Brian Strutton, general secretary of pilots’ union Balpa, answered questions from the Transport Select Committee on Wednesday

‘The predictions that some of the airline leaders are saying, of up to a five or six-year recovery, is not in line with industry standard predictions.

‘Last week, Iata, the International Air Transport Association – which is usually the touchstone for these things – issued its new projections, and said that by the end of 2022 we would be back to 2019 levels.

‘We’re in a trough at the moment, we will be coming out of it over the next two-and-a-half years, and I think that airlines are egging the pudding too much to take advantage of the crisis to make changes and downsize their workforce unnecessarily.’

Virgin Atlantic has warned it could stop operating from Gatwick Airport and more than 3,00 jobs after passenger demand dropped amid the Covid-19 crisis

Mr Strutton went on: ‘We have threats of job losses starting on the 15th of June.

‘The one immediate thing that needs to be done is those knee-jerk decisions taken now – in isolation by different airlines – need to be called out, need to be stopped.

‘Government should be saying, “it’s not the right time to be taking those decisions whilst we work out a holistic way forward for the industry”.’

Last week it was revealed senior British Airways cabin crew are facing a staggering 55 per cent pay cut with salaries slashed to £24,000 in yet another blow to the airline industry.  

Aviation minister Kelly Tolhurst said the threat of job losses ‘keeps her up at night’ on Wednesday, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has previously said his airline would be forced to shed 3,000 jobs

The news comes as thousands of British Airways customers are still owed refunds despite the airline suspending most flights in March.

Diana Holland, assistant general secretary for transport at the Unite union, told the committee that she is “extremely concerned” about the future of the aviation industry.

How coronavirus has affected UK airlines 

Flybe: Europe’s largest regional airline collapsed on March 5 after months on the brink, triggering 2,400 job losses and left around 15,000 passengers stranded across the UK and Europe. 

British Airways: The International Airlines Group, which also includes Iberia and Aer Lingus, said on March 16 that there would be a 75 per cent reduction in passenger capacity for two months, with boss Willie Walsh admitting there was ‘no guarantee that many European airlines would survive’. The company has since said it wants to reduce the number of staff by 12,000.

easyJet: The airline with 9,000 UK-based staff including 4,000 cabin crew grounded its entire fleet of 344 planes on March 30. The Luton-based carrier said parking all of its planes ‘removes significant cost’ as the aviation industry struggles to cope with a collapse in demand.

Loganair: The Scottish regional airline said on March 30 that it expects to ask the Government for a bailout to cope with the impact of the pandemic. 

Jet2: The budget holiday airline has suspended all of its flights departing from Britain until April 30. A number of Jet2 flights turned around mid-air last month while travelling to Spain when a lockdown was announced in the country.

Virgin Atlantic: The airline said on March 16 that it would have reduced its lights by 80 per cent by March 26, and this will go up to 85 per cent by April. It has also urged the Government to offer carriers emergency credit facilities worth up to £7.5billion.

Ryanair: More than 90 per cent of the Irish-based airline’s planes are now grounded, with the rest of the aircraft providing repatriation and rescue flights. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said his airline would be forced to shed 3,000 jobs while seeking pay reductions of up to 20 per cent by those who remain. But Ryanair has since said it plans to operate 1,000 flights a day this summer – restoring 40 per cent of its flights from July 1, despite indefinite travel restrictions.

She said: ‘If there isn’t revenue coming in to the industry it’s not just the airlines (affected), it’s the airports, it’s everything down the line and of course all the people that work there.

‘We are extremely worried about the future, and that’s why we need to come together now to look at what plan we have to restart, to rebuild confidence.’

Ms Holland acknowledged that there may be ‘temporary changes’ to jobs, pay, terms and conditions, but stressed these must not be “decimated for the future’.

She added: ‘This is about all of us.’

Aviation minister Kelly Tolhurst told MPs that she has been contacted by many aviation workers in recent weeks, and the threat of job losses ‘keeps me awake at night’.

She went on: ‘I am under no illusions to the impact and the concern that those individuals will be feeling at that time, and what the consequences could be for some of them.

‘My priority… is very much how we work with industry and all stakeholders in that restart and recovery process.

‘It is my top priority. There are many, many challenges, some which will be not easy to overcome.

‘But ultimately we need to work together as an industry and internationally, in order to get our planes up and flying again, our airports working, and also keeping our workforce in work.’

At the start of May Virgin Atlantic announced 3,150 jobs could go and operations may cease at Gatwick Airport.

The company said uncertainty over when flying will resume as well as ‘unprecedented market conditions’ as a result of the coronavirus pandemic had ‘severely reduced revenues’.

Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive 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. I wish it was not the case, but we will have to reduce the number of people we employ.’

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