UK. Virgin Atlantic is shedding 3,150 jobs and moving its flight programme from London Gatwick Airport to London Heathrow in its latest cost-cutting response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company, which is applying for UK government loans, will restrict its UK flights to Heathrow and Manchester only and is retiring its seven 747-400s. It said it plans to retain slots at Gatwick to allow it to return in the future.

The airline said that the pandemic has severely reduced its revenues and – following the examples of 9/11 and the global financial crisis – it anticipated recovery for the airline industry to take up to three years.

Troubled times: Virgin Atlantic has moved to cut its costs in the face of the COVID-19 crisis

Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said: “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.”

He added: “After 9/11 and the global financial crisis, we took similar painful measures but fortunately many members of our team were back flying with us within a couple of years. Depending on how long the pandemic lasts and the period of time our planes are grounded for, hopefully the same will happen this time.”

British Airways said last week that it was cutting up to 12,000 jobs from its 42,000-strong workforce. In addition, it told staff that it might not reopen its Gatwick operation when the pandemic is over.

Commenting on Virgin Atlantic’s announcement, a Gatwick spokesperson said: “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 at Gatwick for when demand returns.

The carrier said it will now be restricting its UK flights to Manchester and London Heathrow airports

“This news will be devastating for its staff and the many local businesses that supply and support the airline at the airport and its HQ in Crawley, however we will continue to work with Virgin Atlantic to get them flying again from Gatwick.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the aviation sector but we remain confident that the industry will recover as air travel demand returns. We remain very optimistic about the long-term prospects of Gatwick Airport and our resilience as a business and, having remained open throughout this pandemic, we are in a strong position to extend our current operations quickly to meet demand.”

Gatwick also said it will continue to work closely with other airline partners, including easyJet, the IAG Group, Wizz, TUI and Ryanair to strengthen its business for the future.

The spokesperson added: “We also welcome the recent news that another of our major airline partners – Norwegian Airways – has taken important steps forward to secure its future at Gatwick. We look forward to all our airlines flying again soon.”