WestJet Airlines Ltd. on Tuesday announced it is slashing its workforce nearly in half amid a complete suspension of its international and transborder flights as the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies. 

“Today, 6,900 WestJetters are receiving notices confirming early retirements, early outs and both voluntary and involuntary leaves,” said WestJet CEO Ed Sims in a press release. “This is devastating news for all WestJetters.”

The Calgary-based carrier said it sent a notice last week to all WestJet employees requesting they “put up their hand to support the survival of the airline.”

Options included unpaid leave, early retirement, resignation, reduced hours or reduced pay.

According to the press release, 90 per cent of the nearly-7,000 employees leaving the airline did so voluntarily.

“It is through these WestJetters’ sacrifices that we can preserve a core of people who will remain employed to prepare for the moment when the situation stabilizes, and we can look to rise again,” wrote Sims.

The airline also stated executives and vice presidents have agreed to a 50 per cent and 25 per cent pay cut, respectively.

The move follows layoff announcements at several other Canadian airlines, including Air Canada, which announced on Friday the temporary layoff of more than 5,100 employees.

Air Transat, for its part, earlier revealed it is laying off about 70 per cent of its total workforce.

The layoffs come as airlines suspend their international and transborder routes in compliance with government travel restrictions.

WestJet on March 16 announced a 30-day suspension of all commercial flights to and from international and American cities starting March 22.

It is now operating “rescue and repatriation flights” to bring its Canadian passengers home.

Global passenger revenues could plummet by $252 billion this year, a 44 per cent drop from 2019, the International Air Transport Association said Tuesday.

"Airlines are fighting for survival in every corner of the world," IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac said. "Travel restrictions and evaporating demand mean that, aside from cargo, there is almost no passenger business. For airlines, it's apocalypse now.

In a matter of weeks the trade group's previous worst case scenario -- $113 billion forecasted on March 5 -- has become much sunnier than its current projection.

"Without immediate government relief measures, there will not be an industry left standing," de Juniac said, calling for $200 billion in relief.

He cited nine states including Australia, China and Sweden that have pledged aid packages in the form of loans, delayed fee payments and other measures.​

With files from The Canadian Press