Jet2 plunged to pre-tax loss of almost £120 million over the summer during a period of “unprecedented operational and financial challenges”.

The figure compared with a profit of £337 million in the equivalent six months to September 30 last year.

The budget carrier and tour operation saw its fleet grounded in March as the Covid-19 pandemic hit before resuming limited services in July after the government lifted quarantine restrictions for an approved list of countries.

Around 80% of staff were placed on furlough while the balance sheet was bolstered with a £171 million placing of 20% of the group’s shares, the disposal of distribution and logistics arm Fowler Welch for £98 million and £300 million in government aid.

As a result, the total half-year loss after tax was £68.7 million against a profit of £278.6 million in the same period last year.

The parent company, previously known as Dart Group, changed its name in September to Jet2 plc, reflecting a continued focus on its longer-term strategy of growing its leisure travel business with Steve Heapy made chief executive and Philip Meeson remaining as executive chairman.

Meeson said: “At this stage, we anticipate winter 20-21 seat capacity will be approximately 50% less than winter 19-20.

“And, with travel advice remaining uncertain, we expect forward bookings to continue to display a pronounced shorter lead time than in previous years.”

The group last week announced expansion earlier this month with the addition of Bristol airport as its tenth UK base with flights starting on April 1, 2021.

The 2020 summer flying programme concentrated on routes “where we can achieve a positive financial contribution, supported by our quick to market, flexible operating model”.

But carryings fell 90% to less than one million from more than 10 million in summer 2019.

“The uncertainty created by the several changes in UK government quarantine guidance resulted in us achieving an average load factor of 69% (2019: 93.1%),” the company said.

Meeson said: “Whilst the recent positive news about a potential vaccine was welcome, we continue our cautious approach to summer 2021.

“Current seat capacity is close to summer 2019 levels and we are on sale to all our popular real package holidays leisure destinations.

“We have taken many actions to improve our available liquidity over the period and will continue to do so, to ensure that we are best placed to respond swiftly as travel restrictions are modified and customer confidence recovers.

“And, despite these difficult decisions, we will continue to take every step necessary to preserve cash and enhance liquidity to ensure both Jet2.com and Jet2holidays are equipped to deal with this most challenging of trading environments and also best positioned for a return to operations in a stable financial position, to the benefit of all stakeholders.”

He added: “We have taken great pride in refunding our customers promptly.

“Our virtual contact centre, social media and customer service teams having worked tirelessly in this regard, and we were duly recognised by the UK Civil Aviation Authority as the only UK airline to have been consistently processing cash refunds quickly.”

Meeson said: “When the financial year began, very few people could have foreseen the prolonged impact of the pandemic.

“Jet2 has adapted quickly to the challenges presented by taking considered, but decisive actions to bolster its liquidity, minimise losses and reduce cash burn.

“Throughout, we have taken a disciplined approach to flying capacity which has seen us positively contribute to our fixed costs and deliver a better than expected cash position to the scenarios modelled at the time of the [share] placing in May.”

“We have taken many actions to improve our available liquidity over the period and will continue to do so, to ensure that we are best placed to respond swiftly as travel restrictions are modified and customer confidence recovers.

“And, despite these difficult decisions, we will continue to take every step necessary to preserve cash and enhance liquidity to ensure both Jet2.com and Jet2holidays are equipped to deal with this most challenging of trading environments and also best positioned for a return to full operations in a stable financial position, to the benefit of all stakeholders.”

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