Emirates slashes flights, cuts wages

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Emirates, one of the world’s largest long-haul airlines, will stop nearly all passenger flights  and cut staff wages by up to 50%  because of the coronavirus impact on travel demand.

The state-owned Dubai carrier earlier announced suspension of 70% of its 159 destination network, asked staff to go on unpaid leave and froze recruitment as the industry faces one of its biggest ever challenges.

“As a global network airline, we find ourselves in a situation where we cannot viably operate passenger services until countries reopen borders and travel confidence returns,” Emirates Chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum said in a statement.

The airline, which initially said it was stopping all passenger operations by Wednesday, will maintain some services to 13 countries for repatriation flights at the request of governments.

Flights would continue as long as borders remained open and there is demand, it said. Cargo flights will also operate.

It operates a fleet of 270 aircraft, mostly Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 passenger jets.

Emirates employees told Reuters they were not surprised flights were suspended.

“There is no other choice,” one said on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to media.

International connectivity is crucial for Emirates’ Gulf hub model, which transformed Dubai into the world’s busiest international airport. It does not operate domestic flights and most passengers transit through Dubai.

Emirates Group, a state holding company including the airline as an asset, will enforce a temporary 25% to 50% reduction in basic salary for the majority of employees.

“I feel uncertain for the future but at least we still have jobs and are being paid,” an employee said.

The Group had 100 000 employees, including more than 21 000 cabin crew and 4 000 pilots, in March 2019, the close of its last financial year.

Emirates President Tim Clark, due to step down in June, and Gary Chapman, president of the holding group’s airport and travel services company, will forgo basic salaries for three months.

“We want to avoid cutting jobs,” Sheikh Ahmed said.

In an email to staff, seen by Reuters, he was confident the airline he has been chairman of since it was founded in 1985 would survive and asked staff to “keep their spirits up.”

“For now, we have to preserve resources, while preparing ourselves for the rebound,” he said.