Airport ground handler Swissport will cut almost half its UK workforce, affecting airports including Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Edinburgh.

Trade unions Unite and the GMB described the Swissport job losses as “devastating” and called on the government to intervene with financial aid to the sector.

The Airport Operators Association (AOA) warned up to 20,000 jobs are at risk at airport operators, with airline schedules and passenger numbers forecast to be significantly down year on year.

Swissport launched a consultation on the redundancies today, which is expected to result in more than 4,500 job loss – more than half the workforce.

The UK’s largest ground handler, Swissport has operations at almost every airport and employs 8,500 across the country.

Rival ground handler Menzies is also threatening redundancies at Heathrow, where it employs more than 2,500 workers, and Heathrow has launched a voluntary severance scheme of its own.

Gatwick has already been hit by the closure of British Airways’ and Virgin Atlantic’s operations at the airport.

GMB national officer Nadine Houghton said: “At least 4,000 workers and possibly many more will lose jobs which are essential to regional economies.

“With job cuts on this scale we have deep concerns about the viability of many regional airports.”

Unite national officer Oliver Richardson said: “We can’t wait any longer. The government needs to intervene urgently with a bespoke financial package and an extension of the 80% furlough scheme for the aviation industry.”

The AOA also called for government help.

AOA chief executive Karen Dee said: “Commercial aviation in the UK has weathered the worst three months in its history and is now presented with an arbitrary quarantine policy which has unnecessarily stifled the sector’s restart and recovery plans.

“The government should look to revoke the blanket quarantine measure as soon as possible and institute a measured approach proportionate to the risk in destination countries.”

Dee said: “We face considerable challenges in recovering from the devastating impacts of Covid-19 and we are calling on the government to do much more to protect jobs in the aviation sector, many of which are highly-skilled.”

“Government needs to recognise the immense crisis facing airport communities and take action to support aviation and protect livelihoods.”

The AOA called for relief on business rates payments for 2020-21, a review and repeal of the government’s quarantine policy, an extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme beyond October and a suspension of Air Passenger Duty (APD) for at least six months.