Virgin Atlantic is to temporarily withdraw its services from Gatwick Airport to operate only from Heathrow and Manchester once travel restrictions ease.
The airline, which is shedding 3,150 jobs, is also reducing the size of its aircraft fleet by permanently grounding most – if not all – of its 747 Jumbo jets.
It will also close 15% of its 57 travel agencies in the UK as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has brought all travel virtually to a standstill.
The airline said it might return to Gatwick when traffic picks up again, but for now all flights from Gatwick are cancelled.
British Airways is also understood to be considering pulling out of Gatwick to focus on flying from Heathrow, and Norwegian, which operates budget flights to the United States and Europe from Gatwick, said it might not fly again from the UK until next spring.
Trade unions are now claiming that the very survival of the 62-year-old airport, which until recently was pushing the Government for permission to build another runway to expand its capacity, is under threat.
Diana Holland, assistant general secretary of Unite, which represents cabin crew and check-in staff, said: “We have grave concerns about the impact on Gatwick airport and the local economy following this latest blow.”
Gatwick has around 50 airlines and, until the pandemic, was used by more than 46 million passengers a year, but BA is its second biggest airline, after easyJet, and Norwegian is its third biggest.
The airport has only recently lost the services of Thomas Cook Airlines, which collapsed last year, and Monarch, which failed in 2017.
Virgin is Gatwick’s sixth biggest airline customer in terms of passenger numbers.
The airline’s CEO Shai Weiss said: “We have weathered many storms since our first flight 36 years ago, but none has been as devastating as Covid-19 and the associated loss of life and livelihood for so many.
“However, to safeguard our future and emerge a sustainably profitable business, now is the time for further action to reduce our costs, preserve cash and to protect as many jobs as possible. It is crucial that we return to profitability in 2021. This will mean taking steps to reshape and resize Virgin Atlantic in line with demand, while always keeping our people and customers at the heart of all we do.