June 25 (UPI) -- Australian airline Qantas on Thursday announced at least 6,000 employees will be laid off and another 15,000 will remain on furlough, due to economic conditions linked to the COVID-19 crisis.
The carrier said it will also ground as many as 100 planes, including most of its international fleet, for up to a year as part of a three-year plan to cut costs by more than $10 billion.
Warning that it will take "years" for international air travel to return to what it was before the coronavirus pandemic, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the job losses and other moves are painful, but necessary.
"We have to position ourselves for several years where revenue will be much lower," he said in a statement. "And that means becoming a smaller airline in the short term."
The job cuts, he added, are especially difficult because Qantas, the flag carrier of Australia, had been growing quickly prior to the health crisis.
"What makes this even harder is that right before this crisis hit, we were actively recruiting pilots, cabin crew and ground staff," Joyce said. "We're now facing a sudden reversal of fortune that is no one's fault, but is very hard to accept."
In addition to the layoffs and groundings, Qantas said it hopes to raise more than $1 billion in equity to "accelerate" recovery. Shares sold to private investors will carry a discount of nearly 13 percent.
Airlines worldwide are expected to lose $84 billion in 2020, the International Air Transport Association estimated this month.
Overall bookings this month are down 82 percent compared to last June, as travelers remain reluctant to fly, even with extensive safety precautions and international travel bans, IATA said.
Airlines have responded by trying to raise cash and tapping emergency government funding.
American Airlines said this week it intends to secure $3.5 billion in new financing and United expects to borrow $4.5 billion from the federal government.