Brussels Airlines slashes jobs, fleet size and destinations

The airline is losing €1 million a day after suspending normal operations on March 21.

Brussels Airlines slashes jobs, fleet size and destinations

Brussels Airlines announced a restructuring plan on Tuesday that will see it lay off about a quarter of its staff, reduce its fleet of aircraft by about a third and slash the destinations it offers in an effort to survive the crisis unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“This unprecedented crisis has worsened our financial situation, obliging us to take substantial and indispensable measures,” said Brussels Airlines CEO Dieter Vranckx.

“The company is confident that with its turnaround plan it will be able to safeguard 75 percent of its employment and grow again in a profitable way as soon as the demand for air travel has recovered to a new normal, which is expected as of 2023,” the airline said in a press release.

Brussels Airlines has been losing €1 million a day since normal flight operations were suspended on March 21; it expects demand for air travel to be about 25 percent lower in 2021 than before the crisis.

The announcement comes as Lufthansa, the Belgian airline’s German parent company, is in talks with the Belgian government over a €290 million state support package. The Belgian government wants to impose strict requirements on a rescue, including possibly taking a stake in the carrier, while Lufthansa is leery of governments getting involved with management in return for rescue cash.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr is due in Brussels this week to meet with Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès and Finance Minister Alexander De Croo, Belgian press reported.

Brussels Airlines currently employs over 4,000 people, and has a fleet of 54 airliners, which will be reduced to 38. It will also cut a number of unprofitable destinations.

Vranckx said that discussions with labor unions over the restructuring started Tuesday morning. The goal will be to avoid layoffs by first ending freelance and temporary contracts and encouraging early retirements as well as voluntary and unpaid leave schemes.

Vranckx told reporters that the airline had already faced difficulties because of the bankruptcy of Thomas Cook last year, as the holiday operator had fed passengers to Brussels Airlines. That, plus the pandemic, “put the airline’s back against the wall. We have to survive, in our current structure we will not,” he said.

That means destinations like Lanzarote, Bristol and Sicily would be cut. The fleet reduction could also lead to lower frequencies on other routes.

As it downscales its fleet, the airline will first get rid of its oldest and most polluting aircraft.

Vranckx stressed that in addition to the restructuring plan, Brussels Airlines needs help from Lufthansa as well as from the Belgian government. If that happens, he said he was confident the airline would be “competitive in the market, structurally healthy and be there to participate in the growth when it picks up again.”

Source : Politico EU More   

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Germany’s virus reproduction rate faces fresh scrutiny

It's unclear how much Germany's growing coronavirus reproduction rate reveals about the pandemic.

Germany’s virus reproduction rate faces fresh scrutiny

Amid rising political pressure, Germany has been easing its coronavirus lockdown — only to see its virus reproduction rate, or “R,” tick up again.

Now some critics, at home and abroad, are asking whether the two trends are linked.

On Tuesday, Germany’s top public health authority, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), reported the reproduction rate had been above 1 for three consecutive days, since Saturday.

The number indicates whether a pandemic is wearing off. Anything above 1 means that on average, one infected person will pass on the virus to at least one other person. A value below 1 indicates that the spread of the virus is slowing down.

Some media reported this trend with alarm.

“Germany has relaxed more coronavirus lockdown measures despite the country’s rate of infection rising to potentially dangerous levels,” Britain’s Daily Mail wrote on Monday.

However, some experts note that making that connection is not necessarily useful: The reproduction rate depicts not the current situation but reflects a lag of several days stemming from the incubation period, testing, waiting for test results and registrations.

“Today’s reproduction rate refers to infections that occurred over the period between April 28 and May 3,” RKI microbiologist Lars Schaade said Tuesday, ruling out the possibility that Germany’s bustling streets on the weekend from May 8 to May 10 were the cause.

Schaade said that the reproduction rate needs to be carefully analyzed for other reasons as well, and noted that the nominal average number of cases in Germany is still dropping.

Accordingly, “single outbreaks have a stronger impact on the value of the reproduction rate than was previously the case,” he said, adding that recent large outbreaks in slaughterhouses may be partly to blame.

On Monday, the RKI reported that it’s too early to tell “whether the trend of new infections, which has been declining in recent weeks, will continue or whether there will be a renewed increase in the number of cases.”

However, “the increase in the estimated reproduction rate value makes it necessary to observe the development very carefully over the next few days,” it added.

On Saturday, large protests against lockdown measures in several German cities sparked concern among politicians and virologists, as many protestors ignored social distancing guidelines and failed to wear masks.

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday criticized their behavior and said it was still essential to maintain an appropriate distance from others.

But she also cautioned that it would take two or three weeks before it’s clear whether and how the recent lockdown easing will affect infection numbers in Germany.

In the meantime, she emphasized, prevention is vital. “So keep your distance, cover your mouth and nose. Show consideration for each other,” Merkel said.

Source : Politico EU More   

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