EasyJet plans to close its bases at Stansted, Southend and Newcastle as part of wide-ranging cuts which could see up to 727 pilots made redundant.

The carrier announced in May that it would cut up to 30% of jobs alongside other cost-saving measures, and on Tuesday confirmed it had launched a formal consultation.

The airline said in a statement: “EasyJet has today started formal consultation on proposals with employee representatives including Balpa and Unite on all of its UK-based pilots and crew.

“The proposals include the potential closing of three of its bases in the UK – London Stansted, London Southend and Newcastle. These airports would remain part of EasyJet’s route network.

“We have also informed all employees who may be directly affected by these proposals and will be providing full support to our people during this difficult time. We are fully committed to work closely with our employee representatives during these consultations with the aim of minimising job losses as far as possible.”

Chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “These are very difficult proposals to put forward in what is an unprecedented and difficult time for the airline and the industry as a whole.

“We are focused on doing what is right for the company and its long-term health and success so we can protect jobs going forward.”

“Unfortunately the lower demand environment means we need fewer aircraft and have less opportunity for work for our people – we are committed to working constructively with our employee representatives across the network with the aim of minimising job losses as far as possible,”

Pilots’ union Balpa said it was “shocked” at the scale of the proposed cuts, which equate to almost one in three pilot roles.

Brian Strutton, general secretary, said: “We know that aviation is in the midst of the Covid crisis and we had been expecting easyJet to make an announcement of temporary measures to help the airline through to recovery.

“But this seems an excessive over-reaction and easyJet won’t find a supply of pilots waiting to come back when the recovery takes place over the next two years. EasyJet paid £174m out to shareholders, got agreements to furlough staff to protect cash, got £600m from the government, has boasted of having £2.4bn in liquidity, and ticket sales are going through the roof so fast they cannot get pilots back off furlough quickly enough – so why the panic?

“It doesn’t add up. We are meeting easyJet today and we will be fighting to save every single job.”

Strutton added: “This is more evidence that aviation in the UK is caught in a death spiral of despair and individual airlines are flailing around without direction. Balpa repeats its call for government to step in, provide a strategy and back a moratorium on job losses while all stakeholders sort out an holistic way forward for the whole aviation sector.”