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Singapore Airlines cuts 20% jobs as virus hits air travel

Bloomberg September 11 | Updated on September 11, 2020 Published on September 11, 2020

Passenger traffic is not likely to recover to pre-pandemic levels any time soon, say experts

Singapore Airlines Ltd is eliminating about 4,300 jobs, or 20 per cent of its workforce, as the coronavirus outbreak devastates the aviation industry.

The cuts will be made at Singapore Airlines and its SilkAir and Scoot units. Discussions are underway with unions and arrangements will be finalised as soon as possible, the carrier said in a statement late on Thursday.

The job losses are the first at Singapore Airlines since the SARS outbreak in 2003.

“Having to let go of our valuable and dedicated people is the hardest and most agonising decision that I have had to make in my 30 years with SIA,” Chief Executive Officer Choon Phong Goh said. The next few weeks will be some of the toughest in the history of the SIA Group.

The decision shows that even the world’s top carriers can’t evade the biggest financial crisis in the industry’s history after the pandemic eviscerated air travel. The International Air Transport Association doesn’t expect passenger traffic to recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024. Singapore Airlines is particularly vulnerable because it has no domestic market to fall back on.

The carriers shares slipped 0.6 per cent early Friday following a 1.1 per cent loss Thursday. They are down 45 per cent this year.

Who will survive?

“When the battle against Covid-19 began, none of us could have predicted its devastating impact on the entire aviation industry,” Choon said. Eight months on, the number of carriers that have collapsed continues to rise. It is still not clear who will ultimately survive this crisis.

The job losses come despite the airline raising about S$11 billion ($8 billion) through loans and a rights issue in June, and receiving aid from a government job-support program. The Ministry of Finance said it spent about S$15 billion as of July to help companies in the city-state pay staff.

Unlike many of its peers, Singapore Airlines initially managed to resist job cuts, though some staff were redeployed to work in hospitals, social services and on Singapore’s transport network.

Hiring freeze

It also imposed a hiring freeze in March and offered early retirement and voluntary redundancies that eliminated some 1,900 positions. As a result, the potential cuts across the group have been reduced to about 2,400, the airline said Thursday.

Singapore Airlines expects to be operating at less than 50 per cent of capacity at the end of this financial year.

“The job cuts could initially save the airline S$13 million a month until March, when the governments job support program is due to end, and almost S$20 million after,” according to James Teo, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence in Singapore.

“I think these cuts are overdue and the delay was likely due to the time taken to finalize voluntary departures,” Teo said.

The carrier suffered a record S$1 billion operating loss in the first quarter through June, with revenue passenger kilometers plunging more than 99 per cent. The virus woes are exacerbated by fuel-hedging losses, with as much as 79 per cent of its needs locked in at $71-$74 a barrel for jet fuel and $58-$62 for Brent, Teo wrote earlier Thursday, before the job-cuts announcement.

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Published on September 11, 2020
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