OTTAWA :Air Canada said Monday that it will temporarily lay off 16,500 employees starting this week due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To furlough such a large proportion of our employees is an extremely painful decision but one we are required to take given our dramatically smaller operations for the next while,” chief executive Calin Rovinescu said in a statement.  

The layoffs of 15,200 unionized workers and 1,300 managers came amid drastically reduced flight capacity from Canada’s largest airline.   The Montreal-based carrier has halted most of its international and U.S. routes.

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Air Canada’s flight attendant union said earlier that 5,149 cabin crew would be temporarily laid off due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The newly announced layoffs do not include the earlier job cut.

Canada’s second largest airline WestJet said March 24 that it laid off around 7,000 employees due to the COVID-19 crisis.

WestJet said Monday it is cancelling all transatlantic and U.S. routes until May 4, extending its 30-day suspension by two more weeks.

Another two Canadian airlines — Air Transat and Porter Airlines– have halted all flights.

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