Britain’s biggest airports, airlines and aviation services groups have issued a joint plea to Boris Johnson to offer their employees a lifeline by extending the government’s wage subsidy scheme “for a few more months”.
Sky News has seen a letter from some of the industry’s most prominent executives to the prime minister in which they argue for a “a tapered withdrawal of the scheme, allowing us to return staff to full employment as our sector begins to recover”.
The letter is signed by the chief executives of Airlines UK and the Airport Operators Association, as well as the bosses of the big ground-handling groups Dnata, Menzies Aviation, Swissport and WFS.
It represents the latest in a series of increasingly frantic efforts from aviation bosses to persuade the government that their sector is on the brink of mass redundancies amid expectations that recovery in demand for flights will be painstakingly slow.
Since the start of last week, British Airways, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic Airways have collectively announced plans to cut up to 18,000 jobs.
Reports this week have suggested that Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, will announce within days changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme that will ultimately reduce its cost to taxpayers.
Mr Sunak has signalled that the financial burden of the programme – estimated at up to £40bn so far – could not be sustained indefinitely.
In their letter, the aviation bosses said tapering the job retention scheme “would be simple to administer by decreasing the number of furloughed employees supported by the government using a fixed monthly percentage, based on a starting point of individual business furloughed headcounts on 30 June or any later date as may be put in place”.
“Bringing our workforce off furlough incrementally to match the as-yet unseen uptick in demand for our services avoids the triggering of redundancies many of which will be unnecessary and premature,” it said.
They added that without a tapered end to the scheme, “our industry will not be able to play our critical role in supporting the recovery of our national economy and in maintaining the UK’s international competitiveness as an aviation hub once this crisis has passed and we will likely be forced to make a significant number of the redundancies the JRS was designed to avoid”.
Employers have said they need to know by 15 May what the fate of the scheme is, in order to make announcements about plans for permanent job losses.
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