By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter

BUDGET carrier Cebu Pacific said the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic will continue to impact its operations in the coming months, even after the month-long enhanced community lockdown being imposed over the entire Luzon island.

Cebu Pacific Corporate Communications Director Ma. Rosario L. Lagamon announced late Monday night that the low-cost airline was slashing “over 150” jobs as it foresees “less flights and reduced operations” in the coming months due to the pandemic.

Also on Monday, President Rodrigo R. Duterte ordered the lockdown of Luzon to contain the spread of the COVID-19, suspending work and public transportation and regulating food and health services.

Guidelines from the Transportation department said airport operation will be limited to outgoing flights carrying foreigners and tourists. Filipinos are not allowed to fly out of the Philippines.

This was followed by the announcement of Philippine Airlines (PAL) on Tuesday that all its domestic flights were canceled “immediately” until April 12, 2020. The flag carrier will resume its domestic flights on April 13, 2020.

Cebu Pacific, operated by Cebu Air, Inc., said in a statement: “Over the past several days, we have seen a rapid escalation of developments surrounding the spread of the COVID-19. Since the situation started progressing last January, the aviation industry — including Cebu Pacific — has been hurting from the impact of COVID-19. We have had to cancel flights to key international markets, and more recently, majority of our domestic operations due to community quarantines and air travel restrictions.”

“We considerably reduced capacity on other routes we are still able to fly due to the drop in passenger volume. Some passengers booked for flights that have not been affected by any restrictions since late January 2020 have opted to forego travel due to uncertainties. This unprecedented situation with COVID-19 will continue to impact Cebu Pacific for months ahead,” it added.

The budget carrier said it initially implemented austerity measures, which include delaying non-critical projects and programs, a hiring freeze, deferment of some training programs, cancellation of non-essential activities, restricting overtime, and pay cuts by its executives.

“However, as we foresee less flights and reduced operations in the coming months, we will have less requirement for flying staff,” it added.

It said the management had decided to let go of newly hired flight attendants as reduced flights entail “less opportunity for them to gain in-flight experience.”

The company assured its more than 150 new employees, whose last day of work will be on March 19, 2020, that they will be prioritized in the hiring once the business picks up.

PAL, operated by PAL Holdings, Inc., said it continues to operate international flights up to March 19, 2020.

PAL Spokesperson Cielo C. Villaluna said in a phone interview on Sunday that the flag carrier will continue to carry out cost control measures to stay afloat.

“We started with phase 1 which is business restructuring by implementing the voluntary and the involuntary retirement program,” she said.

PAL has cut about 300 jobs as a way to recover from its 2019 losses, which worsened in the first two months of 2020 due to the impact of the new virus on its operations.

The government said it would defer the collection of take-off, landing and parking fees from Philippine carriers as a form of relief from the pandemic.

In a phone message on Tuesday, Philippines AirAsia, Inc. Head of Communications David F. de Castro said: “We don’t have forecasts yet, but we are currently witnessing subdued demand for travel in some of our key markets; and as such, we are making changes to our network to reflect consumer demand.”