Fiji Airways to cut more than half its staff, seek aircraft payment deferralsFiji Airways to cut more than half its staff, seek aircraft payment deferrals
The first Airbus A350 XWB aircraft of Fiji Airways takes off at the aircraft builder’s headquarters of Airbus in Colomiers near Toulouse, France

SYDNEY (Reuters) – South Pacific carrier Fiji Airways said on Monday it would cut 51% of its staff permanently as it negotiates with lenders and aircraft lessors for payment deferrals and seeks to arrange more debt financing due to the pandemic-driven downturn.

“The sad reality of prolonged flight suspensions means that we simply do not have work for a large segment of our workforce now, and for the foreseeable future,” Fiji Airways Chief Executive Andre Viljoen said in a statement.

The airline said the staff cuts would affect 758 employees, including 78 expatriate pilots and eight expatriate executives.

Remaining staff will have their salaries cut by 20% permanently effective June 1, and the airline will extend flying cuts to August, the carrier said.

Viljoen said the measures would help ensure the survival of the Fijian airline, which is a backbone of the island nation’s tourism industry.

“Many large and respected airlines around the world are collapsing as a consequence of this unprecedented crisis,” he said. “However, we will do everything within our power to ensure that Fiji Airways does not suffer the same fate.”

Fiji’s Attorney-General and Economy Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyu last week told The Australian Financial Review that his country wanted to be included in a proposed “travel bubble” being discussed by Australia and New Zealand that would allow trips between the countries without the need for quarantines.

Fiji has had only a small number of coronavirus cases.

(Reporting by Jamie Freed; Editing by Kim Coghill)