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Finnair eyes pilot layoffs due to coronavirus

The flag carrier will furlough some pilots after cancelling its Chinese flights.

Finnairin lentokoneita Helsinki-Vantaan lentokentällä
Finnair's Chinese routes are a crucial part of its business strategy. Image: Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva

Finnair is beginning co-determination talks with 700 long-haul pilots due to the coronavirus situation. The national airline has cancelled all of its roughly 200 flights to and from China through the end of March.

The negotiations, which begin next week, are aimed at gauging the need for temporary layoffs.

"We're preparing for a prolongation of this situation. Negotiations start next week and will include discussion of possible temporary furloughs," says Finnair's media relations director Päivyt Tallqvist.

Voluntary time off so far

When the airline announced its 2019 results last Friday, CEO Topi Manner said he believed the coronavirus situation would be a passing one with a limited impact on the company's finances.

At that point Manner said that the carrier's overstaffing due to the flight cancellations was being handled by offering employees more training and the option of voluntary leave.

Tallqvist said that the assessment of the financial impact had not changed, but that the firm is bracing itself for the possibility that the crisis may drag on.

"This is part of our overall preparedness for a potential continuation of the situation. When we talk about this number of cancellations, we have to evaluate the effect on our human resources needs," Tallqvist tells Yle.

Dozens of airlines have halted flights to and from China, and many companies have also called off business trips to the country.

Hong Kong-based carrier Cathay Pacific has laid off 27,000 people, or nearly its entire workforce, for three weeks due to the new form of coronavirus.

The disease has killed at least 1,367 people, nearly all of them in China. On Wednesday, the World Health Organisation officially named it Covid-19.

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