EasyJet Plans 700 Pilot Layoffs, Base Closures

Credit: easyJet

LONDON—UK ULCC easyJet plans to make more than 700 pilots redundant and close three of its British bases as it downsizes in the face of the novel coronavirus crisis.

The airline announced June 30 that it had started formal consultations with staff representatives, including the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) and Unite, representing cabin crew.

BALPA said it was shocked at the number of potential job losses, which amounts to nearly one-third of all easyJet pilots in the UK. It described the company’s move as “an excessive over-reaction” to the crisis—a view supported by at least one analyst.

EasyJet said the decision followed its May 28 warning that it might have to cut staff numbers by 30% and prune its network and bases as a result of the pandemic. It added that—in line with IATA projections—it believed that market demand would only return to 2019 levels by 2023.

“These are very difficult proposals to put forward,” easyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said. “We are focused on doing what is right for the company and its long-term health and success so we can protect jobs going forward. 

“Unfortunately, the lower demand environment means we need fewer aircraft and have less opportunity for work for our people.”

The company’s proposals include the potential closure of its bases at London Stansted (STN), where it is the third-largest operator after Ryanair and Jet2; London Southend (SEN) and Newcastle (NCL), in northeast England. The carrier said that all three airports would remain part of easyJet’s route network. 

The three locations account for 675 pilots and crew. The airline proposes closing them at the end of August. 

In an intimation that further cuts may be required, Lundgren said that the company “will continue to review its network and bases to ensure they are optimized in the current environment.”

“We know that aviation is in the midst of the COVID crisis and we had been expecting easyJet to make an announcement of temporary measures to help the airline through to recovery,” BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton said, “but this seems an excessive over-reaction and easyJet won’t find a supply of pilots waiting to come back when the recovery takes place over the next two years.” 

“EasyJet paid £174 million ($216 million) out to shareholders, got agreements to furlough staff to protect cash, got £600 million from the government, has boasted of having £2.4 billion in liquidity, and ticket sales are going through the roof so fast they cannot get pilots back off furlough quickly enough—so why the panic? It doesn’t add up,” Strutton added. 

BALPA’s comments were echoed by Unite. “There is no need for this announcement at this time, especially since easyJet has taken a multi-million-pound government loan which it ought to be putting to use defending UK jobs,” Unite national officer for civil aviation Oliver Richardson said. “It absolutely should not be allowed to make huge redundancies a few weeks later.”

BALPA’s reaction to the scale of the planned redundancies was backed by GlobalData analyst for travel and tourism Ralph Hollister.

“Although it is vital that easyJet cuts costs to operate efficiently amid the current level of demand for air travel, there is a danger that its streamlining initiatives could be too aggressive,” Hollister said. “The airline could end up being left bare and short of labor if demand continues to surge as European governments continue to relax travel restrictions. Pilots that are made redundant won’t simply sit back and wait for the airline to re-employ them when sufficient demand levels return.”

Both unions said that easyJet’s action again underscored the need for more governmental assistance, ideally a holistic approach to the entire sector.

“This is more evidence that aviation in the UK is caught in a death spiral of despair and individual airlines are flailing around without direction,” Strutton said.

Alan Dron

Based in London, Alan is Europe & Middle East correspondent at Air Transport World.