Korean Air, the largest carrier in South Korea, has become the latest airline to resort to taking staff off duty amidst worsening conditions for the aviation sector. In a Tuesday statement, the airline said that it would put at least 70 percent of its 19,000 staff in South Korea on leave from April 16 to October 16. Affected employees will reportedly receive 70 percent of their regular pay, which is standard business practice in South Korea.
Earlier in March, Korean Air grounded two-thirds of its passenger fleet, citing an 80 percent cut in its international capacity following the explosion of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country and the resulting global travel restrictions. At the time, the airline also said it was putting its 300-odd foreign pilots on leave from April to June. As the outbreak worsened to pandemic status, however, Korean Air management and labor unions changed the plan to putting all employees on one month of unpaid leave, before settling on the current plan for six months of leave on reduced pay.
The South Korean government has extended some assistance to the aviation sector, primarily in the form of exempting some airport usage fees, related charges, and taxes, and allowing delayed payment on others. Low-cost carriers, which run on lower margins than full-service airlines like Korean Air, have also received cash injections. However, the government has reportedly held off on providing Korean Air with extensive financial support, requiring the company to continue taking its own cost-cutting measures.