April 2 (UPI) -- U.S. aviation giant Boeing announced a buyout program Thursday that allows employees to leave voluntarily with a benefits package, as the company adjusts to trying conditions in the travel industry brought on by the coronavirus emergency.
Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun announced the program in a memo to employees. His message doesn't detail the buyout package, but it promised more information in the coming weeks.
The planemaker, which had 161,000 employees at the start of this year, has been severely hampered on two fronts -- the first involving the international grounding of its 737 Max fleet, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
"One thing is already clear," he wrote in the memo. "It will take time for the aerospace industry to recover from the crisis. When the world emerges from the pandemic, the size of the commercial market and the types of products and services our customers want and need will likely be different."
Calhoun said Boeing must now "balance" supply and demand as the travel industry is all but certain to navigate the recovery process for years.
Last month, the Chicago-based aerospace company called for at least $60 billion in government aid -- a request that led to the departure of board member Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who said she didn't agree with its call for a federal bailout.
The International Air Transport Association said Thursday the aviation industry faces the greatest crisis in its history, as passenger traffic in February was down 14 percent from last year -- the steepest decline since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"Airlines were hit by a sledgehammer called COVID-19 in February," said IATA Director-General Alexandre de Juniac. "Borders were closed in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. And the impact on aviation has left airlines with little to do except cut costs and take emergency measures in an attempt to survive in these extraordinary circumstances."