In its latest and most drastic measure to deal with operations battered by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group said yesterday that it has decided to cut around 4,300 positions.
However, the number of employees impacted by the exercise may be fewer - perhaps around 2,400 - as measures such as a recruitment freeze, natural attrition and voluntary departure schemes may cushion the blow.
The vast majority of those affected are foreigners.
Several other major international airlines such as Qatar Airways and United Airlines have already announced significant job cuts, with the Covid-19 pandemic wiping out demand for international air travel.
The SIA Group said: "This decision was taken in the light of the long road to recovery for the global airline industry due to the debilitating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the urgent need for the group's airlines to adapt to an uncertain future."
Staff from SIA, SilkAir and Scoot were told of the move at virtual meetings yesterday evening, before the decision was made public.
The SIA Group said it expects to operate at less than 50 per cent of its capacity at the end of the financial year in March next year, as compared with the levels before the Covid-19 pandemic. It is currently operating at only 8 per cent of its usual capacity.
The group said: "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.
"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."
In a memo to staff, SIA chief executive Goh Choon Phong said it was a "painfully difficult decision" to retrench staff, the toughest one that he has had to make in his 30 years at the company.
Mr Goh said that the group is working with Singapore-based unions to finalise the arrangements for affected staff and to minimise stress and anxiety for them.
"For our impacted colleagues, please know that this is not a reflection of your individual strengths and capabilities," he said.
"It is the result of an unprecedented travel paralysis brought about by a global pandemic."
Mr Goh assured staff that they will get all the necessary support during this trying time. He also urged staff to rally together to get through this difficult period.
Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said that "what we have dreaded all these months has happened" with SIA's decision to cut jobs.
He said the Government will do all it can to restore air travel in a safe manner.
The National Trades Union Congress added that it will assist affected workers in any way it can.
The layoffs had been widely anticipated as international travel continues to be paralysed, with governments enforcing strict border controls to contain the pandemic.
While there has been some reopening in recent weeks for essential business and official travel between Singapore and selected countries, including China, the passenger and flight numbers are a fraction of pre-pandemic days.
The International Air Transport Association has said that passenger demand for air travel is not expected to return to pre-crisis levels until 2024.
In July, SIA had reported a $1.12 billion net loss in the quarter ended June 30 - its largest quarterly loss on record - as demand plummeted amid travel restrictions.
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