UPDATED: Massive layoffs at Singapore Airlines

4,300 employees to go as airline faces ‘long road to recovery for global airline industry’ from COVID-19 pandemic

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Flag carrier Singapore Airlines announced Thursday (10 September) that it was cutting at least 4,300 positions across its group airlines because of the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that has virtually shut down international travel that particularly affects the airline because it has no domestic traffic to fall back on.

A little more than six months ago Changi Airport in Singapore was full of passengers. Now a lone student waits to say goodbye to a friend in a nearly deserted departure hall. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

The airline issued its statement after stock markets closed in Asia and said “after taking into account a recruitment freeze, natural attrition, and the take up of voluntary departure schemes, the potential number of staff impacted will be reduced to about 2,400 in Singapore and in overseas stations”

The airline group said the decision was made because of the “debilitating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the urgent need for the group’s airlines to adapt to an uncertain future”. Singapore Airlines also said the company’s group expects to operate under 50 percent of its capacity at the end of financial year 2020/21 versus pre-COVID levels. Industry groups like the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have also forecast that passenger traffic will not return to previous levels until at least 2024.

A very quiet Changi Airport in Singapore on 12 August. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

“Relative to most major airlines in the world, the SIA Group is in an even more vulnerable position as it does not have a domestic market that will be the first to see a recovery,” the company said in its statement. “In order to remain viable in this uncertain landscape, the group’s airlines will operate a smaller fleet for a reduced network compared to their pre- COVID operations in the coming years. To prepare for this future, the group needs to cut around 4,300 positions across Singapore Airlines, SilkAir and Scoot. This has been mitigated by a recruitment freeze that was implemented in March 2020, open vacancies that were not filled, an early retirement scheme for ground staff and pilots, and a voluntary release scheme for cabin crew. Collectively, these measures have allowed the group to eliminate some 1,900 positions.”

Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong. (PHOTO: IATA)

Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong said “when the battle against COVID-19 began early this year, none of us could have predicted its devastating impact on the global aviation industry. From the outset, our priorities were to ensure our survival and save as many jobs as possible. Given that the road to recovery will be long and fraught with uncertainty, we have to unfortunately implement involuntary staff reduction measures. Having to let go of our valuable and dedicated people is the hardest and most agonising decision that I have had to make in my 30 years with SIA. This is not a reflection of the strengths and capabilities of those who will be affected, but the result of an unprecedented global crisis that has engulfed the airline industry. The next few weeks will be some of the toughest in the history of the SIA Group as some of our friends and colleagues leave the company. We will conduct this process in a fair and respectful manner, and do our best to ensure that they receive all the necessary support during this very trying time.”

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Matt Driskill
Matthew Driskill is the Editor of Asian Aviation and is based in Singapore. He has been an Asia-based journalist and content producer since 1990 for outlets including Reuters and the International Herald Tribune/New York Times and is a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. He frequently appears on international broadcast outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC and has taught journalism at Hong Kong University and the American University of Paris. Driskill has received awards from the Associated Press for Investigative Reporting and Business Writing and in 1989 was named the John J. McCloy Fellow by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York where he earned his Master's Degree.

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