Southwest Airlines vows to increase winter staffing and improve tech after holiday mess
Paul Hennessy | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
In a filing ahead of an investor conference, Southwest said it continues to expect a loss in the first quarter after a revenue hit of as much as $350 million resulting from the fallout of the holiday mess last year, when it canceled more than 16,000 flights during the last 10 days of 2022, drawing criticism from Washington.
Southwest said it expects unit costs, excluding fuel, to be up as much as 6.5% year over year this quarter, higher than a January forecast of an increase of no more than 4%.
The company will purchase more equipment to deice planes and bolster staffing levels. Bitter temperatures during a series of storms before Christmas last year limited how much time crews were able to spend outside, Southwest said.
The airline will also improve technology to better predict how long deicing could take and has improved one of its scheduling platforms to ensure adequate staffing for flights when things go wrong.
“We understand the root causes that led to the holiday disruption, and we’re validating our internal review with the third-party assessment. Now, we expect to mitigate the risk of an event of this magnitude ever happening again,” CEO Bob Jordan said in a news release. “Work is well underway implementing action items to prepare for next winter—with some items already completed.”
Russia detains Wall Street Journal reporter, plans to hold him until late May
– | Afp | Getty Images
The reporter, Evan Gershkovich, was detained on suspicion of espionage, according to Russia’s Federal Security Service. Shortly after, a Moscow court ordered Gershkovich’s detention to last until May 29, according to the Journal, which cited local reports.
Gershkovich’s detention escalates already high tensions between the United States and Russia. The U.S. government is spending billions to support Ukraine’s defense against invading Russian forces.
Officials from the White House and the State Department spoke with the Journal Wednesday night regarding Gershkovich’s detention, according to a statement from White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. The Biden administration has also been in contact with Gershkovich’s family, and the State Department has been in direct contact with the Russian government, Jean-Pierre said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement his agency has been seeking “consular access” to Gershkovich.
“In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the Kremlin’s continued attempts to intimidate, repress, and punish journalists and civil society voices,” Blinken said.
The FSB alleged Gershkovich “was collecting information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the military-industrial complex of Russia.” Gershkovich pleaded not guilty to espionage charges, according to Russian state news agency Tass. If convicted, Gershkovich could face up to 20 years in prison.
Daniil Berman, the lawyer of arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, speaks to journalists near the Lefortovsky court, in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 30, 2023. Russia’s top security agency says an American reporter for the Wall Street Journal has been arrested on espionage charges.
Alexander Zemlianichenko | AP
The Wall Street Journal adamantly denied the charges, adding that it sought “the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter.”
“We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family,” the Journal said.
Since January 2022, Gershkovich has worked for the Journal in Moscow. Before that, he reported in the country for AFP and The Moscow Times, according to his LinkedIn account. Prior to that he was a news assistant for The New York Times.
Gershkovich’s most recent article, published Tuesday with a co-byline, was headlined “Russia’s Economy Is Starting to Come Undone.”
Russia is one of the worst countries in the world for press freedom, according to a 2022 index from Reporters Without Borders, a nonprofit advocacy group. It has gotten worse since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, according to the organization.
The country’s government has a long history of harassing journalists, including detaining foreigners on spying charges that appear more politically motivated.
Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin has overseen a significant crackdown on free speech and political dissent.
Both Blinken and Jean-Pierre stressed the continued importance of heeding the U.S. government’s warning with regards to U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Russia.
“U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Russia should depart immediately, as the State Department continues to advise,” Jean-Pierre said.
Virgin Orbit fails to secure funding, will cease operations and lay off nearly entire workforce
Greg Robinson / Virgin Orbit
“Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to secure the funding to provide a clear path for this company,” Hart said, according to audio of the 5 p.m. ET meeting obtained by CNBC.
“We have no choice but to implement immediate, dramatic and extremely painful changes,” Hart said, audibly choking up on the call. He added this would be “probably the hardest all-hands that we’ve ever done in my life.”
The company will eliminate all but 100 positions, amounting to about 90% of the workforce, Hart said, noting the layoffs will affect every team and department. In a securities filing, the company said the layoffs constituted 675 positions, or approximately 85%.
“This company, this team — all of you — mean a hell of a lot to me. And I have not, and will not, stop supporting you, whether you’re here on the journey or if you’re elsewhere,” Hart said.
Virgin Orbit will “provide a severance package for every departing” employee, Hart said, with a cash payment, extension of benefits, and support in finding a new position — with a “direct pipeline” set up with sister company Virgin Galactic for hiring.
Hart has been giving the company’s employees brief daily updates since Monday, when Virgin Orbit delayed a scheduled all-hands meeting at the last minute. Late-stage deal talks had fallen through with a pair of investors over the weekend, but Hart told staff on Monday that “very dynamic” investment discussions were continuing.
Those investor discussions continued this week, with Hart earlier saying leadership would share any updates “as quickly and transparently as we can,” noting that leaking emails “is against company policy,” according to copies of Hart’s emails from Tuesday and Wednesday obtained by CNBC.
The company this week has been steadily bringing back more of its employees from the operational pause and furlough it began on March 15. It initially resumed some work with a “small team” a week later. Amid the broader pause, Virgin Orbit has been working to finish its investigation into the mid-flight failure of its previous launch, as well as finish preparations on its next rocket.
Shareholders unloaded the stock in extended trading Thursday, with shares selling off more than 40% after the announcement. Virgin Orbit stock closed at 34 cents a share at the end of the regular session, having fallen 82% since the beginning of the year.
A Virgin Orbit representative did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Sir Richard Branson poses in front of Virgin Orbit’s rocket manufacturing.
Virgin Orbit developed a system that uses a modified 747 jet to send satellites into space by dropping a rocket from under the aircraft’s wing mid-flight. But the company’s last mission suffered a mid-flight failure, with an issue during the launch causing the rocket to not reach orbit and crash into the ocean.
The company was among a select few U.S. rocket companies to successfully reach orbit with a privately developed launch vehicle. It has launched six missions since 2020, with four successes and two failures.
It has been looking for new funds for several months, with majority owner Sir Richard Branson unwilling to fund the company further.
Virgin Orbit was spun out of Branson’s Virgin Galactic in 2017 and counts the billionaire as its largest stakeholder, with 75% ownership. Mubadala, the Emirati sovereign wealth fund, holds the second-largest stake at 18%.
The company previously hired bankruptcy firms to draw up contingency plans in the event it was unable to find a buyer or investor. Branson has first priority over Virgin Orbit’s assets, as the company raised $60 million in debt from the investment arm of Virgin Group.
On the same day that Hart told employees that Virgin Orbit was pausing operations, its board of directors approved a “golden parachute” severance plan for top executives, in case they are terminated “following a change in control” of the company.
Nikola announces a $100 million stock offering
Massimo Pinca | Reuters
The company’s shares were down about 5% in after-hours trading following the news.
Nikola’s plan to raise capital comes in two parts. First, the company said, it will offer up to $100 million worth of stock to the public via a traditional secondary offering, with Citigroup underwriting. Citigroup will have the option to purchase an additional $15 million worth of shares.
Secondly, Nikola said it has entered into a forward stock purchase agreement with an unnamed investor. If the public offering raises less than $100 million, that investor has agreed to buy the remainder at the public offering price.
Either way, Nikola will raise $100 million before fees, money that it plans to use for working capital and other general purposes.
Nikola is slowly ramping up production of its electric semitrucks after building just 258 battery-electric trucks in 2022. The company said last month that it expects to build between 250 and 350 of the battery-electric semis in 2023, along with 125 to 150 of its upcoming fuel-cell-powered trucks, set to launch this fall. The fuel-cell trucks will have longer range than the battery-electric versions.
Nikola had $233.4 million in cash and equivalents available as of Dec. 31, down from $315.7 million at the end of September. The company lost $222.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2022.
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