Virgin Atlantic expects to resume all of its flights by November, its chief executive announced today after the beleaguered airline secured a £1.2billion rescue package and cut nearly half of its workforce.
Speaking at an online conference, Shai Weiss cautioned ‘we are by no means out of this situation’ and said the company ‘will only be satisfied’ when ‘all our planes are in the sky’, which he predicted to be this autumn.
The chief executive, who recently criticised Boris Johnson’s ‘traffic light’ system to restart global travel which is being introduced on May 17, forecast an increase in demand for air travel as lockdown restrictions ease.
Virgin Atlantic, which was founded by multi-billionaire Sir Richard Branson in 1984, is one of many airlines including British Airways and easyJet to have been dealt an historic hammer blow during the pandemic.
It cut nearly half its workforce despite completing a £1.2billion rescue in September, saying at the time that the ‘devastating impact of Covid-19 on global aviation’ had forced it to ‘take further steps to ensure survival’.
MailOnline has contacted Virgin Atlantic for further information.
Shai Weiss cautioned ‘we are by no means out of this situation’ and said Virgin Atlantic ‘will only be satisfied’ when ‘all our planes are in the sky’, which he expects to be by November. Virgin Atlantic was founded by multi-billionaire Sir Richard Branson in 1984
Virgin Atlantic ncut nearly half its workforce despite completing a £1.2billion rescue
Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic was founded in 1984 by Sir Richard Branson, who continues to have a 51 per cent stake alongside US airline Delta with 49 per cent.
The billionaire Virgin Group boss launched a range of businesses from Virgin Atlantic and his space tourism venture Virgin Galactic, to Virgin Money, Virgin Radio, Virgin Trains, Virgin Cola and Virgin Cosmetic. By 2014, his empire had interests in 200 companies across 30 countries.
Sir Richard came under fire last April after it emerged he had asked for a taxpayer bailout to save Virgin Atlantic from collapse during the pandemic.
However, in an open letter to staff, he insisted he was not asking for a handout, but a commercial loan, believed to be £500million, after the airline went into administration.
Virgin Atlantic then filed for bankruptcy in the US in August, after laying off 3,550 staff and closing its base at London’s Gatwick airport.
The airline secured a £1.2billion rescue package in September, designed to see it through at least the next 18 months. The package includes a pledge of £200million from Virgin Group, the airline’s biggest shareholder, and creditors agreeing to reduce and defer its debts.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Weiss predicted Virgin Atlantic is ‘getting closer to the resumption of travel at scale’ as the pandemic comes to an end.
‘Virgin Atlantic was one of the deepest impacted initially and we took dramatic measures, with tremendous sacrifices for the livelihoods of so many of our excellent people who had done nothing wrong but have lost their jobs,’ he said.
‘But because we completed the privately-funded recapitalisation on September 4, 2020 and, after that, two further rounds of equity, I believe we’re getting closer to the resumption of travel at scale.
‘Actually everything we’ve done throughout this pandemic has been about saving Virgin Atlantic and saving as many jobs as possible.’ When asked if that meant there would be no more job losses, he replied: ‘I think so.’
Virgin Atlantic reopened its stores in England on April 12 under the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown. ‘I think we may see a pick-up in bookings in anticipation of the summer months that are coming,’ he said.
Mr Weiss joined other airline executives in criticising the ‘traffic light’ system to restart global travel, suggesting that trips to low-risk countries should not involve expensive PCR tests and quarantining.
‘For travel between green countries it should be absent quarantine and absent testing,’ he told BBC Radio earlier this month.
‘There are better ways of doing what the government has set out to do.’ He added that the more expensive PCR tests required for travel would put off some customers.
Virgin Atlantic became the latest airline to announce a trial of so-called vaccine passports.
Customers on flights to Barbados from April 16 were invited to use the Travel Pass app to verify they met the Caribbean island’s entry requirements for pre-departure coronavirus testing.
Future versions of the app – developed by airline trade body the International Air Transport Association – will also include coronavirus vaccine records.
Virgin Atlantic said it is seeking permission from the Government to expand the trial to accommodate customers arriving on flights from Barbados to London Heathrow.
A number of other airlines are also using the app, including British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Qantas and Qatar Airways.
Virgin Atlantic chief customer and operating officer Corneel Koster said: ‘In parallel to the UK’s successful vaccination programme and accompanied by a risk-based, phased easing of restrictions, we can see a flightpath to soon allow the safe restart of international travel at scale, in time for summer.
‘When the skies reopen, rapid affordable testing combined with digital health integration will be vital to streamline and simplify the customer experience, make border health checks manageable and build consumer confidence.
‘Governments, industry and technology companies need to work together to lead the adoption of digital solutions with global common standards that are accepted at borders.’
It comes after Boris Johnson insisted it is ‘premature’ to speculate on which countries could be on the UK’s foreign travel ‘green list’.
The Prime Minister apologised to holidaymakers and urged them to be patient as he said the Government will provide an update ‘as soon as we possibly can’.
Non-essential international travel is due to resume from May 17 at the earliest under the Government’s lockdown exit roadmap.
The Government earlier this month unveiled a new traffic light system which will see countries categorised as red, amber or green based on criteria like vaccination levels and coronavirus case numbers.
Travel to green countries will be quarantine-free although passengers will still have to take expensive PCR coronavirus tests.
Virgin Atlantic started using the vaccine passports app on flights to Barbados from April 16
Non-essential international travel is due to resume from May 17 at the earliest under the Government’s lockdown exit roadmap. The Government earlier this month unveiled a new traffic light system which will see countries categorised as red, amber or green based on criteria like vaccination levels and coronavirus case numbers
Travel from red countries will require a stay in hotel quarantine while returning from amber countries will require 10 days of self-isolation at home.
The Government’s plans for resuming non-essential international travel were slammed by travel chiefs who said there was a lack of detail and too much uncertainty. There has also been a furious backlash over the testing requirement for travel from green countries.
It is expected the vast majority of returning holidaymakers will be required to take PCR tests – which cost around £120 – a move that risks pricing families out of a summer break. It would cost the average family of four an extra £600 on top of flights and accommodation.
Airline bosses including easyJet’s Johan Lundgren have warned the current testing requirements could make travel prohibitively expensive, with Covid tests costing more than the flight itself in some cases.
They have argued that families would be reluctant to book if they were forced to find an extra £600 to pay for the tests on top of the cost of the holiday.
Ministers have vowed to drive down the cost but holiday firms fear the testing rules will price many families out of a trip abroad this summer.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said earlier this month that it is now possible for Britons to start thinking about booking a foreign holiday.
He said: ‘My advice today would be moving on from where we were before, I am not telling people that they shouldn’t book summer holidays and that is the first time that I have been able to say that for many months.
‘But I think everybody doing it understands there are risks with coronavirus and of course actually I think people would want to be clear about which countries are going to be in the different traffic light system.
‘People will predominantly of course be looking to book in a green country. So there is only two or three weeks to wait before we publish that list itself.
‘But yes, tentative progress, for the first time people can start to think about visiting loved ones abroad or perhaps a summer holiday but we are doing it very, very cautiously because we don’t want to see any return of coronavirus in this country.’
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy the PC Agency, said reducing the price of testing is ‘the magic wand to recovery in the travel sector’.
He went on: ‘More providers need to encourage people back to travel with lower per person costs so as to stimulate the market.’
Mr Charles also urged the Government to abolish VAT on tests ‘so that the sector can benefit from every measure possible’.
‘Border policies have crushed the travel sector and it now needs full support to get back on its feet,’ he added.
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