Qatar Airways will axe more than 9,000 jobs, or a fifth of its workforce, in the latest blow to the embattled airline industry.
The carrier’s chief executive, Akbar Al Baker, revealed the job cuts in an interview with the BBC: “For me to let them go is really painful, but we have no other alternative.”
The airline employs more than 46,000 staff, meaning the layoffs could impact about 9,200 workers.
Mr Al Baker said a fifth of its fleet would not return to the skies for at least three years and it was impossible to predict when passenger levels and confidence would rebound. “Will it take four years, will it take five years? We’ll have to wait and see.”
He said social distancing on planes was impossible, but because the virus was spread by droplets rather than in the air, passengers would be required to wear face masks and gloves and sanitise their surroundings as much as possible.
Airlines had a duty to disinfect planes and provide cabin crew with protective equipment – steps Qatar was taking, Mr Al Baker added.
Earlier this week, he told Bloomberg that rehiring laid-off employees would be his first priority once demand returned.
The industry is facing an unprecedented crisis as travel bans have forced carriers to ground entire fleets.
On Wednesday, the International Air Transport Association warned that pre-crisis passenger demand might not recover until 2024.
Airlines are struggling to resume operations as countries enforce quarantine restrictions on arrivals and carriers consider how best to enforce social distancing measures on board planes.
The job cuts come after Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, Qatar’s regional rival, made “sizeable redundancies” earlier this week, as it announced plans to resume a number of passenger flights from next week.
Emirates also said on Wednesday it would resume flights from May 21 to nine destinations, including London and Paris.
Carriers including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Ryanair and United Airlines have been forced to cull thousands of jobs due to the pandemic.
Last week, state-owned Qatar was in talks with lenders for loans worth billions of dollars, Reuters reported.
It is thought the airline could explore offering a guarantee from the Qatari ministry of finance for the fundraising.