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British Airways to ground aircraft, cut staff to tackle crisis

British Airways Airbus A380
British Airways Airbus A380, © Airbus S.A.S.

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LONDON - The head of British Airways said coronavirus was causing an unprecedented crisis, warning that aircraft would be parked like never before and staff laid off, in a hardhitting staff message to address "the worsening situation". The entire IAG group faces "immense pressure" from the outbreak.

"It is a crisis of global proportions like no other we have known," BA Chief Executive Alex Cruz told staff in a video message, the transcript of which was seen by Reuters. "Please do not underestimate the seriousness of this for our company."

The message, headlined "the survival of British Airways", comes as airlines across the world cancel flights and cut costs to counter the plunging demand and U.S. travel restrictions on European passengers.

The industry is braced for further airline failures as no carrier is exempt from the short-term pain that has already seen UK regional player Flybe collapse and Norwegian Air stock lose about 80% of its value in a month.

Cruz said that BA, which along with Iberia and Aer Lingus is part of the financially strong IAG, was more resilient "than ever before" but said that the airline was under "immense pressure". "We will have to react fast and definitively in response to the worsening situation," he said in the message.

As a result, he said that jobs would be lost "perhaps for a short period, perhaps longer term" and that the company was in discussions with trade unions. Aircraft would be grounded in a way that the airline has never had to do before, Cruz added.

A spokeswoman for BA, which is based at Heathrow in London, declined to comment when asked how many jobs could go. The airline employs 45,000 people.

While Britain was exempt from U.S. travel restrictions announced on Thursday which will hit its continental European counterparts, it has already cancelled flights to the U.S. as well as Italy, China and South Korea.

New British government advice warning against all but essential travel to parts of Spain on Friday could further hurt BA, which has 17 flights to Madrid daily, plus dozens to other Spanish cities.

Shares in IAG traded up 8% to 355.8 pence in the hour after Cruz's warning over jobs, paring gains of as much as 14% earlier in the session. IAG's stock price has fallen by 42% in the last month.
© Reuters, | Image: Ingo Lang | 13/03/2020 15:59

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