Norwegian Air scraps 3,000 flights, plans layoffs due to coronavirus

OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegian Air NWC.OL will lay off staff and cut around 3,000 flights as the spread of the new coronavirus outbreak sends shockwaves across the travel industry.

FILE PHOTO: Norwegian Air Sweden Boeing 737-800 plane SE-RRJ approaches Riga International Airport in Riga, Latvia January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

“The company has also put several other measures in place, including temporary layoffs of a significant share of its workforce,” the budget carrier said in a statement on Tuesday.

It said the 3,000 flights to be cut between mid-March and mid-June correspond to around 15% of its capacity.

Norwegian earlier announced it had temporarily halted all flights to and from Italy because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The whole of Italy has been placed under lockdown until next month in an attempt to beat the spread of the virus, the government announced on Monday.

“This is a critical time for the aviation industry, including us at Norwegian,” CEO Jacob Schram said.

“We encourage the authorities to immediately implement measures to imminently reduce the financial burden on airlines in order to protect crucial infrastructure and jobs.”

The cancellations add to an already difficult financial situation at Norwegian, which last week scrapped its 2020 outlook and has lost 70% of its market value this year.

“It will affect the entire network and more details will be shared as soon as they are ready to be implemented,” Norwegian said.

In Norway, passenger air traffic fell by 5% in the final days of February, following the confirmation on Feb. 26 of the country’s first coronavirus case, national airport operator Avinor said.

“We’ve seen a clear drop in traffic going into March, and we expect this to continue for as long as the coronavirus situation lasts,” Avinor CEO Dag Falk-Petersen said.

Britain’s Flybe collapsed on March 5 as bookings faltered amid the virus outbreak, and a further shakeout in the industry is seen as likely, industry experts have warned.

A pioneer in low-cost transatlantic travel, Norwegian in recent years launched flights from the Italian capital to major U.S. cities such as Los Angeles and Boston, as well as New York.

On March 5, as the coronavirus outbreak escalated, the company said it would cancel 22 flights between Europe and the United States from March 28 to May 5.

Norwegian last week also cancelled flights to and from the worst affected areas of northern Italy.

(This story refiles to add dropped word “to” in headline)

Editing by Louise Heavens and Jason Neely