Norwegian is cancelling 85% of its flights and temporarily laying off 7,300 staff – 90% of its workforce.

The airline said in a statement: “The Covid-19 situation is escalating by the hour and due to stagnating demand and enforced travel restrictions by authorities worldwide, Norwegian will gradually cancel most of its flights and temporarily lay off a major share of its workforce.”

Jacob Schram, Norwegian chief executive, commented: “We are approaching a scenario where most of our airplanes will be temporarily grounded.

“Several governments in Europe have already said that they will do everything they can to ensure that their airlines can continue to fly when society returns to normalcy.

“We appreciate that the authorities of Norway have communicated that they will implement all necessary measures to protect aviation in Norway, consequently securing crucial infrastructure and jobs.”

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Its main priority this week is to maintain as many scheduled flights as possible to ensure that customers are able to immediately return to their home destinations.

The company will also work closely with the authorities to arrange flights for the benefit of stranded passengers, if necessary.

Schram added: “It is indeed with a heavy heart we have to temporarily lay off more than 7,300 of our colleagues, but we unfortunately have no choice.

“However, I want to emphasise that this is temporary, because when the world returns to normalcy my goal is to keep as many of our dedicated colleagues as possible.”

As of March 21, the company will primarily fly a reduced scheduled domestically in Norway and between the Nordic capitals. Some European flights will be operated.

All intercontinental are cancelled except flights between Scandinavia and Thailand, where the last flights will be at the end of March.