Westjet cuts 6,900 as IATA doubles COVID impact assessment

Westjet planes parked at Calgary International Airport (photo: Twitter @FlyYYC).

The world’s airlines face $252 billion in lost revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new estimate by the International Air Transport Association. The estimate comes as Westjet announces the departure of 6,900 people from its 14-thousand person workforce.

“Today, 6,900 WestJetters are receiving notices confirming early retirements, early outs and both voluntary and involuntary leaves,” said Ed Sims, WestJet President and Chief Executive Officer, adding 90% took a voluntary departure. “I commend those who chose to stand down, so that our airline can stand up.”

“This is devastating news for all WestJetters,” he said. “The fact that we avoided a potentially worse outcome is testament to the spirit and selfless attitude demonstrated by our people, who have enabled WestJet to continue operating with a collective remaining workforce of 7,100.”

“I survived 9/11 and 2008 relatively unscathed, but this one got me,” a flight dispatcher posted to Twitter. “I will be off work for an unknown period. Thoughts are with everyone going thru tough times.”

The airline has parked 120 aircraft as a result of the COVID-19 crisis – two-thirds of the fleet.

“We’re now operating at the same size we were back in 2003,” said Sims.

Its ultra low-cost subsidiary Swoop will cut 269 positions.

The revised IATA estimate is up $139 billion from figures produced March 5, an indication just how fast the situation is changing and how devastating the pandemic is for the aviation sector.

“The air transport industry is in its deepest crisis ever,” said IATA

“Airlines will run out of cash before recovery arrives,” IATA warns. “The typical airline had 2 months of cash at the start of this year.”

In its last public report at the end of December, Air Canada was sitting on $5.8 billion in cash and short-term investments.

In response to the closing of borders and cratering of air traffic, the airline has dropped 80% of its capacity for the month of April, including all but six of its overseas destinations. It will maintain service to 13 airports in the United States and 40 of 62 cities in Canada.

“Dismantling this magnificent network that we built over a decade is very hard to watch,” said Air Canada President and Chief Executive Officer Calin Rovinescu in a video message.

“I understand these are profoundly unsettling times,” he said. “We’re doing all that we can to maintain a skeleton service as we prepare for the resumption of full service.”

Westjet, which has also cancelled international flying and reduced its domestic network by 50%, reported $1.3 billion in cash and equivalents in September. That was the airline’s last public report before it was bought by Onex and taken private. It also reported 81 aircraft – half its fleet – were owned outright and not encumbered by debt.

Without financial relief airlines will go bust. And that could happen en masse.

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA

“IATA has been asking governments to provide a lifeline of financial support,” said de Juniac. “A liquidity crisis is coming at full speed. Revenues have fallen off a cliff. And no amount of cost cutting can save the day if no cash is coming in the door. Without financial relief airlines will go bust. And that could happen en masse.”

Canada’s largest airports expect their revenues to drop up to $2.2 billion this year.

“We will fight tooth and nail to preserve the Westjet that you have supported,” said Sims. “So that when this global crisis ends, we can once again provide millions of Canadians with the competitive airfares and the caring service that you need.”

The first wave of Westjet cuts is planned for Wednesday, while a further round is expected April 1.

Categories: Westjet

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