Luton Airport is to make up to 250 staff redundant in the latest jobs cull in the aviation sector.
The airport, London’s fourth largest, has started consultations with unions to sack almost 30% of its workforce, forecasting a 70% drop in passenger numbers this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The airport is primarily a base for low-cost leisure airlines, although it also serves many private jets.
Alberto Martin, Luton’ chief executive, said the airport had to consider its future and did not expect traffic to return to pre-Covid-19 levels until 2023 or 2024. Its biggest airline, Wizz, is laying off 1,000 staff, while easyJet, whose HQ is at Luton, has announced 1,900 job cuts in the UK alone.
Martin said: “Though we remain confident the airport will recover it is difficult to predict the full effect of this pandemic. In the short-term passenger numbers will be much lower than pre-pandemic levels.”
The Unite union said it was another “hammer blow” to the aviation sector and warned that further jobs among contractors and suppliers would also be at risk, with the airport playing a central role in the region’s economy.
Jeff Hodge, a regional officer for Unite, said the decision was premature while the job retention scheme was in place and as travel restrictions were potentially being relaxed. He said: “Any decision on job losses can and should be delayed until a clearer picture is available.
“Job losses in the aviation sector are growing directly as a result of the government’s failure to provide a sector-specific support package for the industry. The reality is that without urgent and decisive action from the government, more aviation jobs will go.”
British Airways confirmed it would be restarting more flights in the coming weeks, adding more long-haul destinations in the Caribbean and North America, as well as most of Europe by the end of July, with the Foreign Office expected to relax travel advice to 90 destinations on Friday.
BA, which is in the process of making up to 12,000 staff redundant and has threatened to rehire the remainder on inferior contracts, was again subjected to fierce criticism from MPs in the Commons. Asked whether she would consider withholding airport slots from airline, Kelly Tolhurst, the aviation minister, said she would “be looking at all regulations at our disposal”.
She added: “Employees should be treated fairly and in the spirit of partnership and we are working with the aviation sector on a restart and recovery plan.”
Sharon Graham, a Unite executive officer, said BA was risking its trusted brand and landing slots, adding: “BA management can repair this self-inflicted damage by getting around the negotiating table without its unprecedented fire and rehire threat.”
Most European passenger flights have been grounded since late March owing to coronavirus, and travel restrictions continue to halt recovery. According to the data analysis firm Cirium, more than 2,100 flights were to depart from the UK to Greece in the first two weeks of this monthbefore the Greek government extended its ban on flights from Britain.
The effects of the pandemic have rippled through the aviation sector. Airbus on Thursday confirmed that more than 1,400 of the 1,700 UK job cuts it announced on Tuesday would be at the Broughton plant in north Wales, which makes wings for its passenger jets.