Virgin Atlantic’s plans to cut up to 3,150 jobs across its airline and holiday businesses "threatens the future of Gatwick airport", the Unite union has warned.
Announcing the measures on Tuesday (5 May), Virgin said it would temporarily cease operations at Gatwick airport, while seeking to retain its slots in readiness consumer demand to return.
It comes just days after a leaked memo, seen by the BBC, suggested British Airways may not immediately resume its operations at Gatwick once the recovery from Covid-19 comes.
There are also doubts over the future scale of Norwegian’s operations at Gatwick owing to its ongoing financial troubles. Norwegian is Gatwick’s third largest carrier.
Prior to the pandemic, Virgin was aggressively seeking a significantly greater share of Heathrow’s slots once the airport’s third runway is built.
Heathrow last week said its plans to expand via a third runway would likely be delayed by at least two years due to Covid-19.
Following Virgin Atlantic’s announcement on Tuesday, Unite, which represents Virgin cabin crew and check-in staff, said it feared for the economic viability of Gatwick.
“The decision to make 3,150 staff redundant across Virgin’s holiday and airline businesses is another devastating blow to the UK’s beleaguered aviation industry,” said Unite national officer for civil air transport Oliver Richardson.
“It is also premature as the government’s job retention scheme is still up and running and being fully utilised by the company. The company as yet have not formally notified us of the detail of their proposals, and we urge them not to act in haste whilst the job retention scheme is in operation.”
Gatwick is one of three airports served by Virgin in the UK, along with Heathrow and Manchester. Its Gatwick operation is predominantly leisure focused, offering flights to Antigua, Havana, Montego Bay, Orlando and St Lucia, although its exclusive Havana service had been due to be relocated to Heathrow this summer.
In total, Virgin Atlantic holds 2% of total capacity at Gatwick.
Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “We have grave concerns about the impact on Gatwick airport and the local economy following this latest blow. The Virgin announcement that it is pulling out of Gatwick follows Norwegian and BA indicating they are reducing operations [at] Gatwick."
Holland added: “There have been 18,000 job losses announced in the UK aviation sector in the last week alone, and this makes the case even more strongly that the aviation industry-specific package Unite has consistently called for, and the government has promised, must now be delivered.
“The UK has world-class airline and aerospace companies, highly developed and world leading, but the sector needs support in the period of recovery from this pandemic if it is to retain this position.
“Thousands of jobs are dependent on the sector regaining its position. Other governments have delivered support to their aviation industry and it’s now time for the UK to make good on their promise and do the same.”
TTG has approached Gatwick for comment.