Long-haul carrier Qatar Airways has said it will lay off staff as widespread travel bans caused by the coronavirus pandemic have largely grounded the global aviation industry.
The Doha-based carrier offered no specific figures, but an emailed memo from its CEO that was leaked online on Wednesday said the number of employees laid off would be “substantial” and include members of its cabin crew.
“The global outlook for our industry looks grim and many airlines are closing or significantly reducing operations,” Akbar Al Baker wrote in the memo, dated Sunday.
“Now, we have to face a new reality, where many borders are closed, rendering many of our destinations closed and aircraft grounded as a result, with no foreseeable outlook for immediate, positive change.”
He said the airline hoped to rehire staff quickly once global aviation emerges from the pandemic.
Qatar Airways confirmed the layoffs on Wednesday in a press release.
“The unparalleled impact on our industry has caused significant challenges for all airlines and we must act decisively to protect the future of our business,” its statement said.
Affected employees would be paid their contractual dues as well as any owed overtime, Al Baker’s memo said, and those who are not able to immediately return to their home countries would be provided with housing and a living allowance until such a return was possible.
The airline said last month some staff would have their wages halved for at least three months, with the balance to be paid back at a later date.
Airlines hit hard
Qatar Airways Group, which counts the airline among its assets, had 46,684 employees at the end of its last reported financial year in March 2019.
The carrier, which began flying in 1994, has a fleet of more than 200 aircraft flying out of Doha’s recently built Hamad International Airport.
It competes with Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways and Dubai-based Emirates, two other state-owned airlines now facing the dire economic situation brought on by coronavirus lockdowns.
Since the pandemic began, Qatar Airways, like other Gulf airlines, has flown repatriation flights and stepped up its cargo operations.
But the public health crisis has chewed away the aviation industry to the point that Emirates President Tim Clark warned in a recent conference call that “85 percent of all airlines will be insolvent within two or three months” without government assistance.
Qatar Airways already faced challenges before the pandemic. In 2017, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, closed their borders and airspace to Qatar over a political dispute that continues, affecting the airline’s ability to reach vital markets and fly over those nations.