Coronavirus Could Push Finnair To Temporarily Furlough Pilots

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Finnair is reported to be in talks with 700 of its long haul pilots regarding temporary layoffs due to the coronavirus outbreak. The full-service airline has canceled all flights to mainland China until the end of March, and has cut its Hong Kong flights by 50%. As such, some 200 flights will not be operating over the next six weeks.

Finnair
Finnair is contemplating temporary layoffs of pilots. Photo: Getty

Finnair in talks with 700 pilots

Finnish full-service airline Finnair is reportedly contemplating pilot layoffs amid the current coronavirus outbreak. Some 700 long-haul pilots are reportedly being consulted, with full negotiations set to begin next week. Finnair’s media relations director Päivyt Tallqvist told YLE,

“We’re preparing for a prolongation of this situation. Negotiations start next week and will include discussion of possible temporary furloughs.”

The airline has already cut all its flights to mainland China for the rest of the winter season. Hong Kong flights have seen capacity reduced by 50% over the same time period. The downtick in capacity overall equates to around 200 Finnair flights.

Finnair
Finnair is missing some 200 flights between now and the end of March. Photo: Getty

A change of tune

Finnair’s consideration of temporary furloughs comes just days after the airline’s CEO Topi Manner said that he believed the coronavirus would be a passing phase with little impact on the company overall. In its full year 2019 report, the airline said,

“As stated earlier, the direct financial impact of coronavirus during Q1 2020 is relatively limited, even if the mainland China cancellations continued until end of Q1 2020 … “We currently forecast our capacity to increase by approximately 4 percent in 2020. Due to the situation with coronavirus, we do not provide a full year revenue estimate at this time. The guidance will be updated in connection to Q1 2020 interim report.”

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At the time, the airline said it would handle overstaffing due to flight cancellations through offers of voluntary leave or by running training sessions in the interim. However, it now seems that the airline has reassessed the situation and is considering temporary layoffs as a result. Tallqvist further told YLE,

“This is part of our overall preparedness for a potential continuation of the situation. When we talk about this number of cancellations, we have to evaluate the effect on our human resources needs.”

What impact is the coronavirus having on Finnair?

While there has only been one confirmed case of coronavirus in Finland, News Now Finland reports that around 20% of Finnish travelers plan to reduce foreign jaunts over fears regarding the virus. A recent study has highlighted the concerns among travelers, which appears to be more acute in the older generations.

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Finnair earns almost half its revenue from Chinese passengers. Photo: Pixabay

The study by Rural Future suggests that 25% of those over 64 will cut back on travel plans because of the coronavirus. Just 9% of younger people also said they would curb international trips. However, it’s not just the downturn in those traveling from west to east that is causing concern.

Finnair has a solid fan club of Chinese travelers looking to fly with the airline to destinations in Europe, as well as onwards to the United States and Canada. In fact, almost half of the airline’s revenue is estimated to come from Chinese passengers. Fears of spreading the virus have prevented millions of Chinese from taking planned trips, and it is likely this that is hurting the carrier the worst.

Offering unpaid leave to unneeded staff would be in line with what we’ve seen from other airlines, including Cathay and Asiana. However, if Finnair does furlough pilots, it will be the first airline we know of to do this

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