Virgin Atlantic: Things may look bad for aviation, but we will fly again
Aviation is a confidence trick. The very idea that a mammoth machine can transport more than 500 people many thousands of miles relying on a principle of fluid dynamics established by the 18th-century Swiss mathematician, Daniel Bernoulli, seems absurd. Yet even in this worst of years, hundreds of millions of people will fly safely to pursue adventures to the ends of the world, meet the loves of their lives or, more mundanely, do some auditing in Augsburg.
The announcement by Virgin Atlantic of 3,150 job losses – almost one third of its staff – marks the bitterest moment in the history of the airline that Richard Branson founded in 1984. A similar proportion of employees at British Airways face redundancy.
Thousands more jobs will go among airport staff working at Gatwick, which Virgin Atlantic is abandoning and BA may leave.
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Coronavirus is destroying jobs and dreams.
For people who have devoted themselves to the industry of human happiness, this is unbearable news – and part of a worldwide pattern.
The celebrated American investor, Warren Buffett, he believes the world has been changed permanently by Covid-19. He has lost so much confidence in aviation that he has just sold his entire holdings in the four biggest US airlines.
Yet even as the bleakest midsummer for decades approaches, there are some fragments of confidence amid the misery.
Evidently both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic see light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, and believe that they will still have plausible businesses when passengers collectively start booking again at scale.
And while Virgin Atlantic was revealing the deepest cuts in its history and the closure of its original base, a budget airline was announcing six new short-haul routes from Luton airport.
Wizz Air, based in Hungary, will begin with a link to Faro in Portugal on 16 June. New routes to four Greek islands will follow, with maiden flights on the first four days of July: in date order, to Zakynthos, Heraklion in Crete, Corfu and Rhodes. A Marrakech service will follow in late October.
“Although travel is currently restricted by government regulations, we are planning for the easing of restrictions as the situation improves and our customers are able to start travelling again, said Owain Jones, managing director of Wizz Air UK.
Warren Buffett famously urged: “Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.” Wizz Air is evidently taking the latter part of that advice, despite the reservations of the Sage of Omaha.
But to secure reservations for those new flights, Wizz Air has to instil confidence in travellers that they will be able to fly with minimum risk of contracting coronavirus.
As it becomes ever clearer that commercial aviation and social distancing are mutually exclusive, airlines, airports and a good few politicians are pressing for a range of internationally agreed measures to bestow confidence among passengers. The common denominators: temperature checks at the departure airport and everyone wearing face coverings during the boarding process and on board.
The medical evidence for both these precautions is, to put it politely, flaky. Travellers and aviation staff can make a far bigger difference by washing their hands assiduously and staying well away from people and planes if they feel remotely symptomatic.
But if some amateur medical dramatics are necessary to get the world flying again, I judge the policy worthwhile.
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