Norwegian Air to temporarily lay off 7,300 staff and cancel 85% of flights

Norwegian Air will cancel 85% of its flights and temporarily lay off 7,300 employees amid the growing coronavirus crisis, the company has said.

The spread of the virus has halted demand for air travel, the carrier said, particularly after a travel ban to the US from Europe was implemented.

Donald Trump extended his recent clampdown on mainland European travel to also include Britain over the weekend – Norwegian’s biggest route for transatlantic flights. Other nations have also severely limited air traffic.

The company employs close to 11,000 people, according to its website. In a statement, the company said: ‘What our industry is now facing is unprecedented and critical as we are approaching a scenario where most of our airplanes will be temporarily grounded.’

The Oslo-listed carrier has called on authorities in Norway, Britain and elsewhere to help, and said on Friday it needed access to cash ‘within weeks, not months’.

Norwegian launched in 2013 and quickly became the largest foreign airline serving the New York region and a major player at other US airports.

It follows Scandinavian airline SAS which said on Sunday that it would halt most traffic and temporarily lay off up to 10,000 employees, or 90% of the workforce.

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In other drastic measures across the travel industry, Tui suspended ‘the vast majority’ of its package holidays, while P&O Cruises and Cunard cancelled all cruises until April 11.

Meanwhile easyJet, Ryanair, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic joined Norwegian in cutting their flight schedules amid warnings most airlines will go bankrupt by May if governments don’t act to bail companies out.

EasyJet warned there is ‘no guarantee’ that European airlines will ‘survive what could be a long-term travel freeze and the risks of a slow recovery’.

For April and May, Ryanair is cutting its capacity by up to 80% while British Airways’ parent company IAG said it will reduce capacity by at least 75%.

Ryanair added that ‘a full grounding of the fleet cannot be ruled out’.

Virgin Atlantic, which will stop using up to 85% of its aircraft, told staff to take eight weeks of unpaid leave, with the cost spread across six months of their salary.

An airline spokesman said: ‘The aviation industry is facing unprecedented pressure. We are appealing to the Government for clear, decisive and unwavering support.

‘Our industry needs emergency credit facilities to a value of £5 billion to £7.5 billion, to bolster confidence and to prevent credit card processors from withholding customer payments.’

Richard Moriarty, chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority, has warned that ‘the threat to the survival of some businesses is real’, adding that airlines and package holiday firms will need to take ‘very difficult actions’ to avoid running out of cash.

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