Virgin Atlantic to cut jobs, cease Gatwick operations and retire Boeing 747

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400. Photo: © MercerMJ

Virgin Atlantic has announced that it is to cut 3,150 jobs, whilst ceasing operations at London Gatwick Airport. With that, it will also immediately retire its remaining Boeing 747-400. The British airline says that these measures are to cut costs whilst the entire aviation industry goes through its biggest crisis for more than a generation with Coronavirus.

This comes just a week after competitor British Airways suggested it may have to cut up to 12,000 jobs and similarly cease operating from London’s second biggest airport. Virgin Atlantic’s London Gatwick operations will be merged into those at London Heathrow. In a statement, Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive Shai Weiss said “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.

Virgin Atlantic is owned 51% by the Virgin Group and 49% by US legacy airline Delta Air Lines. Virgin Atlantic says it will retain its unused slots at Gatwick, as a safety net should the demand rebound as the crisis eases.

The United Kingdom’s second largest airline will also be retiring its fleet of seven remaining Boeing 747-400 aircraft. The 747 fleet was originally meant to be retired in 2021 as the airline receives the remainder of its order for 12 Airbus A350-1000, and the first deliveries of its 14 A330-900neo begin.

The UK Government is being criticised as it has done little to help the aviation industry, with travel restrictions and a huge drop in passenger demand (due to Covid-19) putting huge financial strain on airlines and the rest of the industry around the globe. Other countries and governments have been more supportive, for example, Air France-KLM received €7 billion in state aid from the French government in April.

Also under fire is Richard Branson, as founder of Virgin Group. He has been very vocal in seeking government assistance for Virgin Atlantic, warning of job losses and the potential inability to pay staff without government support. His critics are suggesting he should be dipping into his own pocket to assist the airline; with a net worth of an estimated $4.4 billion, the businessman owns his own personal island in the Caribbean.