Oslo-based Norwegian Air, already burdened by debt and the groundings of its Boeing MAX jets, is cancelling 3,000 flights between mid-March and mid-June. The troubled airline has also warned employees of temporary layoffs that will affect a “considerable portion” of the workforce.
“This is a critical time for the airline industry, including us in Norwegian,” the airline’s new CEO Jacob Schram stated in a press release Tuesday. In addition to the ill effects of its massive intercontinental expansion in recent years, the airline is now hurting from an abrupt decline in travel demand because of the Corona virus.
The airline already cut 22 long-distance flights between Europe and the US last week. Now it’s cutting 15 percent of its remaining total capacity, and it’s far from alone in resorting to such a drastic step. Rival SAS cut 2,000 flights in March because of lack of demand, including all flights to Italy, which has been hit hardest by the Corona virus.
The leader of Norwegian’s pilots and flight attendants’ unions called the pending staff layoffs “of course sad, but also fully understandable given the contagious situation we now have.” Unn Kristin Olsen of labour organization Parat said a crisis team had been set up to help affected employees. Parat has also asked for a meeting with the transport minister, to obtain assistance not only for the airline industry but all other travel firms affected by concern over the virus.
Norwegian Air also has been among companies seeking an easing of temporary lay-off rules, that will leave the state picking up more of the costs of unemployment benefits for workers on furlough. The government has granted the request, with more details due Friday.