The embattled and heavily loss-making national carrier of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has confirmed reports of mass redundancies at the airline in response to the novel Coronavirus pandemic. Sources quoted by the Reuters news agency suggested hundreds of Etihad Airways employees had already been made redundant but the airline declined to provide a specific figure when asked to comment on the rumours.
A spokesperson for Etihad did, however, confirm that redundancies had already been made across “several areas of our business”. Tony Douglas, the Etihad Group chief executive admitted at a recent forum that the airline had made “quite sizeable redundancies” in its response to the crisis.
“The coronavirus pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to businesses around the world, and Etihad is no exception,” a spokesperson for the airline said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.
“It is clear the demand for travel in the near future will be significantly reduced and as a result we must make difficult decisions to ensure Etihad will weather this storm,” the statement continued. “We are incredibly proud of our world-class workforce, however, we have had to make redundancies across several areas of our business to reflect current market conditions.”
Etihad has been forced to ground nearly its entire fleet since March 25 after emergency travel restrictions were imposed by officials in the United Arab Emirates. The airline has been granted special permission to operate a number of special repatriation flights but Etihad has twice pushed back a planned resumption of regularly scheduled passenger flights.
A spokesperson for the airline said it hopes to resume limited normal operations at some point in mid-June subject to regulatory approval. In the meantime, Etihad has increased the number and frequency of special repatriation flights through June 14.
Sources claim cabin crew and other affected employees have been notified of the decision in short 15-minute video conference meetings after little warning and no consultation. There remains confusion over the selection criteria for who will be laid off.
Employees who are axed in this latest round of redundancies will be asked to leave the United Arab Emirates as soon as possible and placed on repatriation flights at the earliest opportunity said people who claim to be familiar with the matter,
In March, Etihad reported an annual loss of $870 million, stemming from a disastrous equity investment scheme that spectacularly backfired in 2016 and which plunged the government-owned airline $1.87 billion into the red. Since then, Etihad has dramatically scaled back its ambitions for international growth and has implemented a far-reaching cost-cutting programme which had been showing positive signs of success until the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
As of August 2019, Etihad had 20,500 employees, including nearly 5,000 cabin crew and 2,184 pilots. Around 88 per cent of Etihad’s employees are foreign expat workers who hail from over 150 countries.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently used by some of the biggest names in journalism.