As the aviation industry continues to reel under the collapse of demand attendant upon the health emergency, British Airways is the latest airline to announce plans for sweeping job cuts, with as many as 12,000 of its staff affected.
Given the impact of Covid-19, it should have been fairly obvious that something like this was on the cards. Yet the announcement still came as a shock to employees. After all, as recently as 30 March, BA declared that it had successfully extended its US dollar-secured revolving credit facility up to June 2021, enabling it to access funds amounting to $1.38bn.
With its overdraft facility nailed down, the clear implication was that the company could ride out the storm unscathed, soothing staff worried about their future. This optimistic view seemed to be borne out by the fact that BA participated in the government’s job retention scheme, furloughing some of its staff.
These moves were perhaps intended to throw workers off the scent, lulling them into a false sense of security and minimising organised resistance.
It turns out, however, that BA was just cynically dipping into the public purse to buy time for manoeuvre, hoping to soften the financial blow whilst it tried to scale down its UK operations with the minimum hit to the company’s considerable financial resources.
All the while, BA staff were kept in the dark. The company’s decision to sack 12,000 workers was taken behind closed doors – like every other key decision concerning workers’ futures.
It is clear from the current chaos that air travel is far too important a service to remain in private hands.
Rather than the state doling out furlough subsidies to individual stricken airlines, the whole air travel sector needs to come into public ownership, and be run for need not profit.
Only thus will it be possible to make rational decisions about the future role of air travel as it adjusts to the new conditions post-Covid – decisions informed by social and environmental need.
Under a planned economy, if fewer staff and less production were needed in one field, such as air travel, those people and resources would simply be retrained and repurposed to fulfil some other area of human need.