March 20, 2020 / 9:57 AM / 4 months ago

EasyJet to ground most flights, BA pilots face unpaid leave

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s easyJet (EZJ.L) said on Friday it would ground most of its flights, while pilots at rival British Airways will be required to take two weeks’ unpaid leave in both April and May as the battered aviation sector frantically seeks to cut costs.

Parked British Airways planes are seen at Heathrow Airport in London, Britain March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

EasyJet said that the airline would only run a minimal schedule of essential services on some routes from Tuesday after repatriation flights were completed this weekend.

“Significantly reducing our flying program is the right thing to do when many countries have issued advice to their citizens not to travel unless it is essential,” Chief Executive Johan Lundgren said.

“The aircraft groundings will also remove significant levels of variable costs at a time when this remains crucial.”

EasyJet and BA are both exploring how to cut costs but retain staff as they try to wait out the current travel restrictions.

The unpaid leave at BA would be implemented through deductions from basic pay over three months, the airline said in a letter to pilots on Friday.

Chief Executive Alex Cruz last month told BA staff of plans to cut jobs and ground aircraft as he warned that the airline faces a battle to survive after the coronavirus pandemic brought most air travel to a standstill.

At easyJet (EZJ.L), meanwhile, pilots and cabin crew have been asked to take three months’ unpaid leave in addition to a pay freeze and other changes to their contracts, such as the end of free meals while on shift, the BBC reported.

BA’s parent company IAG (ICAG.L) this week said it would cut flying capacity by at least 75% in April and May. EasyJet said that the services which continue after Tuesday will be a maximum of 10% of its usual capacity for the time of year.

EasyJet said it was consulting with its British employees over how they could help it to get through the crisis but did not give details of the discussions.

BA, in its letter to pilots, said it had agreed initial measures with pilots’ union BALPA to address “the immediate threat to the business in the face of COVID-19 and the unprecedented impact this is having on the airline”.

The Financial Times had earlier reported that pilots would face a 50% cut to their basic salary for April and May.

British Airways indicated that it aims to avoid compulsory redundancies and is keeping its options open so that it can respond quickly once demand for air travel returns.

“We are committed to finding solutions and will focus any future discussions on exploring and exhausting all voluntary measures,” the BA letter said.

Reporting by Sarah Young and Alistair Smout, additional reporting by Sabahatjahan Contractor and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by David Goodman and Louise Heavens

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