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Coronavirus: Trudeau tight-lipped on possible support for Air Canada, other airlines

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau tight-lipped on possible support for Air Canada, other airlines
WATCH ABOVE: Trudeau says Ottawa will work with airline sector

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government will work with Air Canada and the rest of the struggling air travel sector amid the coronavirus pandemic but offered no details on what the potential support would look like.

Air Canada announced Friday it plans to lay off around 20,000 employees due to the devastation COVID-19 has brought to its business.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: WestJet extends flight cancellations due to reduced demand

During his near-daily update outside Rideau Cottage on Saturday, Trudeau was asked about a possible bailout for Canada’s biggest airline or whether the airline — which was privatized in the late ’80s — should be nationalized once again.

Airlines navigating a crisis that will change the industry
Airlines navigating a crisis that will change the industry

Trudeau said the government was considering support for specific sectors in addition to aid already announced, such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).

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“We will have conversations with Air Canada, as we will with airlines across the sector, to try and see how the best way to get through this particular pandemic is,” he said.

“We know that airlines are incredibly hard-hit by this pandemic and we will be there to work with them to see how best we can help.”

READ MORE: Air Canada looking to cut roughly 20,000 positions amid COVID-19 crisis

On Friday, an Air Canada spokesperson said the company made the “extremely difficult decision” to lay off 50 to 60 per cent of the workforce because the pandemic has reduced its schedule by 95 per cent — and those traffic levels won’t be returning to normal anytime soon.

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“Our current workforce supports an operation transporting 51 million customers a year with 1,500 flights a day and 258 aircraft,” Peter Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “With current realities, this is simply not sustainable going forward.”

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau government considering more action to aid airline industry
Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau government considering more action to aid airline industry

The airline made a similar decision in March to let go of nearly half of its workforce under a cost-reduction scheme, only to rehire some 16,500 laid-off flight attendants, mechanics and customer service agents in April under CEWS — a program it has not committed to participate in past June 6.

That was the original end date for the program, but Trudeau announced Friday it would run until the end of August.

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To minimize the number of layoffs, Air Canada will ask flight attendants to slash their schedules, go on leave for up to two years or resign with travel privileges, according to an internal bulletin to members from the Canadian Union of Public Employees sent out Thursday night and obtained by The Canadian Press.

— With files from The Canadian Press