Virgin Atlantic retires 747 fleet, closes Gatwick base, to lose more than 3,000 jobs in business reshaping

May 5, 2020

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The coronavirus crisis will have a lasting effect on the aviation industry — and Virgin Atlantic isn’t exempt from that. On Tuesday, the carrier announced a slew of changes it will make in order to “reshape and resize” its business to survive the coronavirus crisis — and thrive in its aftermath.

In a series of moves that will help the airline to reduce costs and preserve cash, most notably, Virgin Atlantic has accelerated the retirement of its ageing Boeing 747 fleet. Effective immediately, Virgin Atlantic will no longer operate its seven 747s. The superjumbo aircraft in Virgin’s fleet were originally set to retire in 2021.

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As planned, Virgin will keep its four A330-200 aircraft in operation before retiring them in 2022. Once the 747s and A330-200s are retired, Virgin’s fleet will be comprised of more fuel-efficient twin-engine aircraft, such as its newest Airbus A350s, Boeing 787s and A330-300s.

Related: Where is Virgin Atlantic parking its planes during the coronavirus outbreak?

In addition, the carrier is moving all of its London operations to fly exclusively out of London Heathrow. The move will see its London Gatwick base closed for the time being. However, the carrier is retaining its slot portfolio at Gatwick, allowing it to return when customer demand does.

Virgin launched its first-ever route from London Gatwick in 1984, operating to Newark (EWR). In March 2020, the carrier announced that it was permanently suspending operations to Newark — another casualty of the coronavirus.

According to Cirium data, Virgin holds 2% of the total capacity at Gatwick. At Heathrow, Virgin is the second-largest carrier behind British Airways, though it accounts for just 6% of total capacity, according to Cirium. The move also means that Virgin will operate from just two U.K. airports: Heathrow and Manchester.

In Tuesday’s press release, Virgin said that it expects the coronavirus recovery to take up to three years to reach pre-crisis levels. As such, the airline said that it’s reducing its number of employees by 3,150 jobs — about one-third of its workforce. A company-wide consultation period of 45 days begins Tuesday.

“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”, Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said in a statement. “It is crucial that we return to profitability in 2021. This will mean taking steps to reshape and resize Virgin Atlantic in line with demand, while always keeping our people and customers at the heart of all we do”.

Related: Richard Branson says Virgin Atlantic will collapse without government support

During the coronavirus crisis, Virgin started operating cargo-only flights, which has kept it operating. In the aftermath of coronavirus, Virgin will continue cargo operations as Virgin Atlantic Cargo.

Additionally, the airline is simplifying its different businesses by rebranding Virgin Holidays as Virgin Atlantic Holidays. In 2020, 15% of the Virgin Atlantic Holidays real estate will close.

Last week, British Airways announced that it was set to make up to 12,000 employees redundant in cost-cutting moves.

Already in the lead up to Tuesday’s changes, Virgin had substantially cut its operations — at one point, completely suspending passenger flights.

Featured photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images.

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