Scandinavian carrier SAS has begun work on cutting up to 5,000 full-time positions from its future workforce as it warns it is likely to take “some years” before air travel demand returns to pre-crisis levels.

SAS will hold talks with unions over the proposed cuts, which will apply to staff across Denmark, Norway and Sweden, on possible measures to mitigate the number of jobs lost. It also notes that as those affected have an average notice period of six months, initiating the action now gives it flexibility to ramp-up the business if demand returns quickly.

The Star Alliance carrier today operates only a limited domestic network in Norway and Sweden. ”Given the current restrictions, SAS expects limited activity in the important summer season. In addition, it will most likely take some years before demand returns to the levels seen before Covid-19,” the carrier says.

“Covid-19 has forced SAS to face a new and unprecedented reality that will reverberate not only in the coming months, but also during the coming years,” says SAS chief executive Rickard Gustafson. 

”We need to adapt our cost base to the prevailing circumstances. Regretfully, we are forced to adapt our workforce to lower passenger demand.

”We will now work intensively together with trade union representatives and others to identify solutions so that as few people as possible are affected. Furthermore, we remain ready to quickly ramp-up operations and reduce the number of affected positions if demand recovers more quickly.”

The potential cuts would cover up to 1,900 full-time positions in Sweden, 1,700 in Denmark and 1,300 in Norway.

”During this process, SAS will actively engage with its unions and other stakeholders to seek solutions to reduce the number of actual layoffs across the group, as well as other productivity enhancements,” the carrier says.

SAS halted the vast majority of its passenger traffic on 16 March as a result of the spread of the coronavirus pandemic through Europe.

The carrier on 7 April temporarily laid off 11,000 employees and made 120 positions in Sweden permanently redundant, as it warned that the state support it is set to receive “will not suffice” if the coronavirus crisis persists.

Struggling Scandinavian rival Norwegian yesterday said it expects to remain in a “hibernation phase” – in which 95% of its fleet is grounded – until the second quarter of 2021.