Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic will make a third of its staff redundant and leave Gatwick airport as it looks to survive the drop-off in world travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The long-haul airline has told staff on Tuesday that more than 3,150 jobs out of its total workforce of around 10,000 will be cut as it continues to seek a government rescue loan.

READ: Virgin Atlantic will not survive without government support, Branson says

Virgin Atlantic, in which Branson’s Virgin Group owns a 51% stake, said it hopes to return to flying around 60% of its pre-pandemic capacity by the end of this year.

The airline said it will no longer fly out of the West Sussex airport and will reduce the size of its Boeing 747 fleet to 35 from 45 by summer 2022.

“This is another terrible blow for the industry and is evidence of the dire situation facing UK aviation,” said pilots union Balpa.

Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton said: “Our members and all staff in Virgin Atlantic will be shocked by the scale of this bombshell. We will be challenging Virgin very hard to justify this.”

The transatlantic carrier’s move comes after IAG’s (LON:IAG) British Airways announced that up to 12,000 jobs could be axed, with budget airline Ryanair last week revealing around 3,000 redundancies.

Fellow union Unite said the move to exit Gatwick, following similar indications from BA and from Norwegian Air, also “threatens the future of Gatwick”.

“There have been 18,000 job losses announced in the UK aviation sector in the last week alone and this makes the case even more strongly that the aviation industry-specific package Unite has consistently called for, and the government has promised, must now be delivered.

“The UK has world class airline and aerospace companies – highly developed and world leading, but the sector needs support in the period of recovery from this pandemic, if it is to retain this position.”

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In a statement, Virgin Atlantic said the planned job cuts were meant to “reshape and resize our business to ensure that is it fit for the future, in response to the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy, our nation and the travel and aviation industry”. 

Last month, after reports that the company and the government could not agree on the terms of a loan, Branson who has an estimated fortune of more than £4bn, said Virgin Atlantic will collapse unless the airline gets an urgent financial support.   

Founder Branson, who has an estimated fortune of more than £4bn, put his private Caribbean island of Necker up as collateral for a £500mln loan from the UK government and said he “will do everything we can to keep the airline going – but we will need government support to achieve that”.