Richard Branson’s airline is axing 3,150 jobs and ceasing operations out of Gatwick Airport in a bid to weather the fallout from Covid-19, with the billionaire desperate to secure a government bailout to keep the company flying.

The cutbacks amount to the company slashing a third of its workforce, and they bring to an end a long-time operation out of the West Sussex-based airport.

The statement on Tuesday also confirmed that the airline would be retiring its seven Boeing 747s, reducing the fleet from 43 to 36.

However, while the company has announced it will not be flying from Gatwick for the foreseeable future, it will retain its landing slots at the airport in case future demand allows them to resume operations.

The airline hopes to “reshape and resize the business to ensure that it is fit for the future in response to the severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic” on the aviation industry.

Branson has been vocal in his calls for aid from the government – even offering up his private retreat, Necker Island, as collateral for a loan. The government has thus far appeared less than willing to bail out the airline, owing to Branson’s huge personal wealth and its part-ownership by US airline Delta, which has just received $5.4 billion in support from Washington.

Workers union Unite branded the move “another devastating blow to the beleaguered aviation industry.” BALPA, the British pilots’ union, echoed Unite’s feelings, calling the job cuts “terrible.”

The Labour Party accused the government of “failing workers” by not stepping in to protect Virgin Atlantic staff’s jobs.

However, some activists have said that government money shouldn’t be used to bail out the company, because Branson is not resident in the UK for tax purposes.

Branson’s Virgin Australia has already had to go into voluntary administration, meaning it has had to cease trading as it cannot meet its debts.

The entire aviation industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, with numerous airlines around the world receiving government funds to keep them afloat.

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