Norwegian Air to cut 4,000 extra flights and lay off half its staff

OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegian Air NWC.OL will scrap another 4,000 flights and temporarily lay off up to half of its employees due to the coronavirus outbreak, the company said on Thursday.

Travel restrictions and falling demand due to the pandemic have hammered airlines around the world. On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered sweeping restrictions on travel from Europe for the next 30 days in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.

The U.S. restrictions are a particularly severe blow for Norwegian Air, a pioneer in transatlantic budget travel and the largest foreign airline serving the New York region and several other U.S. cities.

Around 40% of its long-haul fleet will be grounded until the end of May, the company said. Flights to the United States from Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Madrid, Athens and Oslo will be canceled, although routes from London’s Gatwick Airport will continue as normal as Britain is not affected by the American restrictions.

Up to a quarter of short-haul flights have also been axed, the carrier added. The company said earlier this week it would cut around 3,000 flights between mid-March and mid-June.

Norwegian Air, which had already suffered big losses and hemorrhaged cash in recent years, blamed the “extraordinary market situation due to the coronavirus” for the layoffs.

“We must look at all possible measures to reduce costs. This unfortunately also includes temporary layoffs of up to 50 percent of our employees, and the number may increase,” said the airline, which employs around 11,000 people according to its website.

“We urge international governments to act now to ensure that the aviation industry can protect jobs and continue to be a vital part of the global economic recovery,” Chief Executive Jacob Schram said on Thursday.

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg said earlier this week that her government would offer financial assistance to hard-hit industries, including airlines, but did not provide details.

Reporting by Terje Solsvik and Victoria Klesty; Editing by David Evans and Pravin Char