British Airways is to suspend all flights from Gatwick airport and furlough “many more” of its employees as England marks its second day in lockdown.

In a letter to staff seen by Sky News, BA has warned that it is “moving many more colleagues, from both operational and support function areas onto the government’s extended Job Retention Scheme.”

BA’s owner, IAG, announced a £5.1 billion loss in the first nine months of 2020 last week. IAG called the new measures a “blow to our hopes for the winter season.” The comments reflected those made by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary earlier this week, who warned of a bleak winter ahead for airlines and called for the government to implement airport testing.

Second time BA has suspended Gatwick flights

The latest grounding is the second time the airline has halted all of its flights from Gatwick this year. BA also suspended all flights from London’s second biggest airport after the first lockdown in March.

The letter from BA management read: “We have made the difficult decision to further reduce our operation for the rest of November. This means far fewer flights than we hoped for in November and means grounding more of our aircraft, including pausing all flights from Gatwick until December.”

The letter added that BA would focus on: “crucial air links: bringing home the thousands of customers currently abroad, transporting vital goods and ensuring people who are permitted to travel into and out of the UK for work, education and other reasons stipulated by the UK government can continue to do so.”

New furlough scheme announced by chancellor

Overseas travel is permitted only for specific purposes such as work and study under the new lockdown rules which came into force yesterday. The restrictions are set to be lifted by the government on December 2. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has also announced a new furlough scheme paying 80 per cent of employee wages up to £2,500 to the end of March.

IAG’s CEO Luis Gallego added the downturn in demand caused by the pandemic was “exacerbated” by “constantly changing” government restrictions.

Reflecting O’Leary’s comments, he said countries needed to “evolve” from imposing quarantines and called for a new system involving testing, pre flight and on arrival.

Gallego said: “We cannot wait until the vaccine to have people flying. We need to evolve from quarantines. They are not the solution.”

British Airways CEO Sean Doyle also called for greater use of testing to enable people to fly again. Speaking at the Airlines 2050 conference on October 19, he said: ‘We do not believe quarantine is the solution. We believe the best way to reassure people is to introduce a reliable and affordable test before flying.”

Subscribe to the FINN weekly newsletter