Ongoing discussions at European Union level over possible intra-EU border restrictions look ominous for the aviation industry. It scarcely appeared possible a few weeks ago but 2021 has just gotten a whole lot worse for the sector and Ryanair is on the front line.
The staggering impact on Irish and UK infection rates of the new, more transmissible, B117 variant of the virus has terrified European governments. Just as hope arrived in the form of vaccines, European countries now face the very real risk being overrun again in the short-term. The mood music suggests that Germany and Belgium are now at the forefront of a push to either effectively or explicitly ban leisure travel in the bloc.
EU leaders held a meeting on Thursday evening at which the matter was discussed. There is no agreement yet to ban flights or bring in mandatory border controls across the EU. But it is clear the direction European governments are headed. That train, or plane, is already in motion.
If there are strict border controls in the EU, then there will be little or no outbound tourism in Europe until they are lifted. The US under Joe Biden has also just brought in mandatory quarantine. Taken together, this means there may be little outside demand to visit Ireland for the next five or six months.
That makes it politically and economically easier for the State to contemplate such controls here, as Ireland will no longer be exposed to the risks of going it alone in the EU. Discussions appear to have already started between the Government and the UK on how to solve the “border” issue, which could mean Ireland and Britain end up forming some sort of a travel bubble.
EU-wide restrictions would devastate the aviation industry all over again. Several European governments bailed out their flag carriers last year and may have to do so in again in 2021. Ryanair will, of course, eschew all outside assistance due to the inevitable strings attached and it is better placed that most to withstand the turbulence. Nonetheless, it faces a bumpy ride ahead.