CALGARY -- Calgary-based WestJet has announced that nearly 7,000 of its employees will be leaving the airline, with the majority of the departures being voluntary.

"Today, 6,900 WestJetters are receiving notices confirming early retirements, early outs and both voluntary and involuntary leaves," said Ed Sims, WestJet president and CEO in a statement released Tuesday.

"This is devastating news for all WestJetters. The fact that we avoided a potentially worse outcome is testament to the spirit and selfless attitude demonstrated by our people, who have enabled WestJet to continue operating with a collective remaining workforce of 7,100."

WestJet officials say approximately 90 per cent of the affected staff members will be leaving voluntarily.

Westjet says 120 of the airline's fleet of 180 aircraft are currently grounded.

"The airlines are stuck between a rock and several other very hard rocks and very few choices. There’s really nothing else they can do other than lay off staff," said aviation consultant Rick Erickson.

According to the airline, its executive team has taken a 50 per cent pay cut while the vice-presidents and directors have had their pay cut by 25 per cent.

"We haven’t seen anything approaching where the limits of this are going to hit as of yet. They are going to be substantive," Erickson said.

Reid Fiest, spokesperson for the Calgary Airport Authority said they empathize with all airline employees impacted by the sudden and dramatic changes to the industry.

"Globally, airlines and airports are being forced to make very difficult business decisions because of the dramatic reduction in passenger volumes," Fiest said. "We will continue collaborating with our partner, WestJet as we all adjust to these unprecedented circumstances.”

Rajbir Bhatti, an associate producer of supply chain management at Mount Royal University, says it's time for the federal government to intervene and offer financial assistance to Canadian airlines.

"It might be a bad political decision to say 'Yes, we want to support them' but I think they should not hold off any longer," said Bhatti.

"If you do it later you might have missed the bus because we don’t know how COVID-19 is going to turn out in nine months from now or 12 months from now, and it's only getting worse."