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Lufthansa Plans Job Cuts, More COVID Testing to Boost Customer Confidence

FILE - Aircrafts of German Lufthansa airline are parked on a runway at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, May 4, 2020.

With the outlook for international air travel dim due to the coronavirus pandemic, the German airline Lufthansa this week said it expects to operate at 20%-30% of capacity for the remainder of the year and plans to make more staff cuts in addition to the 22,000 full-time positions previously announced.

The move by the airline group comes as a surprise to retired United Airlines pilot and expert, Ross Aimer.

"Lufthansa is one of the strongest airlines in terms of finances and passenger satisfaction, route structure," Aimer told VOA. "So that comes as kind of a surprise. But you can imagine if Lufthansa is facing this horrific dilemma, other airlines that don't have Lufthansa's strengths, can you imagine what happens to them."

FILE - Employees of German airline Lufthansa wear protective masks as they wait for passengers at a boarding gate at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, June 17, 2020.
FILE - Employees of German airline Lufthansa wear protective masks as they wait for passengers at a boarding gate at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, June 17, 2020.

One of the unions representing Lufthansa employees criticized plans to cut staff and said it's open for more talks with the airline, which in June received a $10.5 billion (9 billion euro) state bailout.

The airline group says it is spending nearly $584 million in cash every month, and it wants to reduce that amount.

University of Reading Law School's Jorge Guira says it costs that much because it has "to do with the amount of staff, you also have to pay airports to have space in which you can land and you have preferable landing rights, you also have to pay for airplanes."

With fewer people flying, the airline, which also owns Austrian Airlines and Eurowings, said it would put some of its fleet into long-term storage and permanently decommission its seven remaining Airbus A340-600s.

"If you are looking at it pre-COVID, you would see that it's a strong company … the problem is when you have this level of shock ... what do you do?" Guira said.

Lufthansa Cuts Jobs, Plans to Expand COVID-19 Testing
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Post-pandemic concerns

But cutting costs still leaves at least one dilemma, experts such as Aimer say: What happens after the pandemic when people start traveling again?

"If and when this nightmare is over and passengers have enough confidence coming back, the airlines will find themselves without pilots," he said. "That's one of the hardest things to bring back. ... It takes a long time and it's very expensive."

The lack of demand for travel isn't likely to end anytime soon, Guira said.

"There's an expectation in England, for example, that we're in for six hard months. I think most people feel that with the twin-demic, because they expect flu and COVID to rise at the same time," he said.

COVID tests

On Tuesday, global airlines called for airport COVID-19 tests for all departing international passengers to replace the mandatory quarantines, which are blamed for exacerbating the travel slump.

"A systematic testing of all passengers at departure would guarantee that you fly people who are not infected by the virus, or with the risk of being infected which is very, very limited by the sensitivity of the test," said International Air Transport Association head, Alexandre de Juniac.

On Wednesday, Lufthansa announced it plans to expand coronavirus on-the-spot tests for passengers before boarding – a measure it deems essential to reviving global air travel.

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    Mariama Diallo

    Mariama Diallo is a senior reporter covering national and world affairs for Voice of America in multiple languages. She was recently the VOA acting bureau chief for the agency's West Africa office.