Virgin Atlantic To Close Gatwick Base Prompting 3,000 Job Cuts

British airline Virgin Atlantic has revealed plans to ax up to a third of its workforce and shut down its London Gatwick operations in a bid to survive the coronavirus crisis. The announcement made moments ago, could see the loss of more than 3,000 jobs from the 10,000 strong workforce.

Virgin 2019
The airline will trim its workforce by a third. Photo: Virgin

Job losses at Virgin

Virgin Atlantic, the long-haul specialist airline, has been reported today to be planning substantial job cuts and the closure of its operations at London’s Gatwick Airport. The airline held a briefing today, where trade unions and staff were advised of up to 3,150 jobs, as reported by the Financial Times.

As well as shaving almost a third off its workforce, Virgin will exit its base of 35 years at London Gatwick, moving its leisure flying operations to Heathrow Airport. It will, of course, retain its focus on Manchester as a second hub.

The move comes in the wake of a tumultuous week for the British aviation industry, as both British Airways and Ryanair announced their own huge job losses. UK-based engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce has also indicated jobs will be lost.

Virgin Atlantic grounded plane bournemouth getty images
More than 3,000 jobs could be lost. Photo: Getty Images

Support packages ‘not enough’

CEO Shai Weiss had sent an internal memo to the staff of Virgin Atlantic warning of the cuts. In the memo, he said that current support measures and cost-cutting efforts were just “not enough” to ensure the future of the long-haul airline. In the note, seen by the Financial Times, he said,

“If we are to safeguard our future and emerge from this crisis a sustainably profitable business, now is the time for further decisive action to reduce our costs and preserve cash.”

The airline previously furloughed a large number of staff and has been reliant on the UK govenment’s wage top-up scheme to trim the cost of these people’s salaries. However, it was awaiting a decision on a £500m ($545m) loan from the government to see the airline through its current crisis.

In a statement sent to Simple Flying, the Virgin CEO 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. This will mean taking steps to reshape and resize Virgin Atlantic in line with demand, while always keeping our people and customers at the heart of all we do.

“I wish it was not the case, but we will have to reduce the number of people we employ. The commitment of our people throughout this crisis has been nothing but amazing, and the embodiment of true Virgin spirit. As we have navigated the Covid-19 crisis, I have been humbled at every step by their solidarity. In times of adversity we must support each other so that ultimately, we can emerge a stronger and better Virgin Atlantic.

“After 9/11 and the Global Financial Crisis, we took similar painful measures but fortunately many members of our team were back flying with us within a couple of years. Depending on how long the pandemic lasts and the period of time our planes are grounded for, hopefully the same will happen this time.

“Our vision for Virgin Atlantic remains the same – to become the most loved travel company, for our people and our customers. Once the crisis stabilises, Virgin Atlantic has an important role to play in contributing to the UK’s economic recovery, providing essential connectivity and competition.”

The airline further describes today’s announcement as “decisive action to reduce costs, preserve cash and to protect as many jobs as possible.”

Shai Weiss
Shai Weiss wants the airline to “emerge a stronger and better Virgin Atlantic”. Photo: Virgin

Not the end for Gatwick?

Although Virgin has confirmed to Simple Flying that it will not operate at Gatwick for the foreseeable, it doesn’t sound like the airline is gone for good. A permanent exit would be bad news for the airport, as British Airways previously indicated it might not resume operations at the south London facility. In its statement the airline said,

As Virgin Atlantic aims to establish itself as the sustainability leader, it will fly only wide-body, twin engine aircraft from London Heathrow and Manchester to the most popular destinations. It will be moving its flying programme from London Gatwick to London Heathrow, with the intention of retaining its slot portfolio at London Gatwick, so it can return in line with customer demand.

Virgin gatwick check in area
Virgin has made a home at Gatwick, but will exit the airport for the time being. Photo: Virgin

Alongside the announcement of job cuts and a move away from Gatwick, Virgin has announced the retirement of the last of its four engine aircraft. The airline previously retired the last of its A340 fleet, and will now phase out its remaining Boeing 747s also.

What do you make of Virgin’s announcement today? Let us know in the comments.