Coronavirus: Norwegian says half its staff could face 'temporary layoffs'

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Norwegian Air Shuttle Boeing 737-800 aircraft with registration LN-DYE as seen with passengers boarding on the airplane for departure at Ålesund Airport, Vigra AES ENAL in Møre og Romsdal county, Norway. Norwegian Air Shuttle DY NAX NOR is a low-cost budget airline, the third largest carrier in Europe, famous for the red nose livery and the portraits of high achievers on the tail fins of the aircraft. The airline the past days faced financial issues, struggling to pay the dept and their bondholders and shareholders, seeking now for financial survival, with the problem being intensified after the grounding of 18 of their Boeing 737 MAX. The airline connects Alesund to Oslo - Gardemoen and Alicante seasonal. (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Norwegian jobs are at risk over the coronavirus as flights are scrapped. (Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Norwegian has announced up to half its workforce could face “temporary layoffs” as it cancelled 4,000 flights over the coronavirus pandemic.

The airline (NAS.OL) grounded 40% of its long-haul fleet on Friday, highlighting the impact of the outbreak and US ban on travel from most European countries. Up to a quarter of short-haul flights will also be cancelled until the end of May.

Its chief executive Jacob Schram said new travel restrictions “imposed further pressure on an already difficult situation” as booking numbers have fallen.

The Oslo-listed company said a “dramatic drop” in customers had forced it to cut costs. It said as many as 50% of employees would be temporarily laid off, without giving further details. It does not mean affected staff face redundancy, but rather they will be forced into an uncertain period of unpaid leave.

A statement released late on Thursday said the majority of its long-haul flights to the US from Amsterdam, Madrid, Oslo, Stockholm, Barcelona and Paris would be cancelled.

But its routes between London Gatwick and the US will continue to operate as normal, with the UK not affected by US president Donald Trump’s European travel ban. Norwegian will aim to reroute as many customers as possible through London.

It suggests Norwegian’s more than 1,200 pilots and cabin crew based in the UK may be less at risk than colleagues in much of Europe. A breakdown by country was not available.

“This is an unprecedented situation and our main priority continues to be the care and safety of our customers and colleagues,” said Schram.

“We urge international governments to act now to ensure that the aviation industry can protect jobs and continue to be a vital part of the global economic recovery.”

It comes amid warnings that up to 50 million travel and tourism jobs could be at risk worldwide as a result of the pandemic.

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) warned global travel could sink by 25% this year, threatening up to 14% of jobs in the industtry.