Coronavirus: Virgin Atlantic Announces Radical Survival Plan

Virgin Atlantic has revealed plans to cut up to a third of its workforce, ground its Boeing 747s immediately and close its Gatwick base as the airline scales back its operations in a bid to secure its future amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company announced that it is preparing to switch all its Gatwick operations to Heathrow and cut 3,150 jobs across all functions within the airline. The Crawley-based carrier also announced that from today, it will no longer use its seven Boeing 747-400s.

Virgin 744
From today, the company will no longer use its seven Boeing 747-400s. Wiki Commons/MercerMJ

Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic 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.

Weiss added: “I wish it was not the case, but we will have to reduce the number of people we employ.”

The operator says it is working closely with unions and will now embark on a 45-day, company-wide consultation period.

In response, Brian Strutton, BALPA general secretary, commented: “Our members and all staff in Virgin Atlantic will be shocked by the scale of this bombshell. We will be challenging Virgin very hard to justify this.”

While it plans to end its operations at Gatwick, Virgin says it will retain it slot portfolio at the London hub so it can return in line with customer demand. The decision will come as a further blow for the airport following last week’s announcement from British Airways, who said it could not rule out closing its Gatwick operation.

A spokesperson for Gatwick Airport said: "We are very saddened to hear the news today about Virgin Atlantic’s plans. We have had a long, close and successful relationship with the airline since it made its maiden flight from [the airport] back in 1984. Virgin Atlantic will always be welcome at Gatwick and we will continue our efforts to explore ways to restart the airline’s operations as soon as possible, in the knowledge that they intend to retain their slot portfolio [for] when demand returns."

Virgin Atlantic is targeting a return to profitability in 2021 and will focus on flying twin-engine widebody aircraft from London/Heathrow and Manchester, to its most popular destinations.

Virgin 787
The carrier is now focusing its operation on using twin-engine widebodies to fly its most popular routes. Flickr Commons/Mark Harkin

According to aviation data analysis expert Cirium, Virgin markets a total of 422 flights every week from its three UK departure points, Heathrow, Manchester and Gatwick. The weekly capacity of these planned services total 133,800 seats.

The carrier also offers five routes not presently served by any other carrier, namely London/Gatwick-Havana/José Martí, London/Heathrow-Barbados/Grantley Adams and Manchester-Atlanta, New York/JFK and Orlando.

At Gatwick, Virgin only accounts for 2% of the total airport capacity, while at the busier Heathrow, it is responsible for 6%.