Ryanair and Aer Lingus to cut further flights from regional airports

Airlines urge Government to save Irish aviation by implementing EU’s traffic light system

Ryanair’s closure of its Cork and Shannon airport bases until April could have been avoided or mitigated if the Government had acted on air travel restrictions, the airline said. Photograph: Niall Carson/ PA Wire

Ryanair’s closure of its Cork and Shannon airport bases until April could have been avoided or mitigated if the Government had acted on air travel restrictions, the airline said. Photograph: Niall Carson/ PA Wire

 

Ryanair and Aer Lingus are cutting further flights from regional airports as Covid-19 travel restrictions decimate bookings, politicians heard on Wednesday.

Executives from both airlines urged the Government to save Irish aviation from closing down by keeping a pledge to implement the EU’s traffic light system for safe travel, which replaces quarantines with rapid virus tests, to save an industry they warned was “closing down”.

Eddie Wilson, chief executive of Ryanair DAC, the airline group’s biggest subsidiary, confirmed that the airline would have no flights in or out of Cork or Shannon between November 14th and December 13th.

Ryanair recently announced it would close its bases at both airports until April, with the temporary lay-off of 135 pilots and cabin crew.

Both airports have Ryanair services to Britain and eastern Europe operated by crews based outside the Republic, but the airline has cancelled these as Mr Wilson said bookings had collapsed.

He was addressing the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks.

Shortly after he confirmed the Cork and Shannon cuts, Ryanair said in a statement that it was suspending all commercial flights from Knock Airport from November 14th to December 13th following a complete collapse in bookings.

Acting Aer Lingus chief executive Donal Moriarty said the airline would cut the frequency of its Cork-Heathrow flights to three per week next month from daily, as it sees few passengers buying flights.

He told the committee the airline had released a full schedule for summer 2021 and was trying to limit job losses to 250, from an original 500. However, he warned, that this assumed a recovery based on the Government adopting the EU system.

That system recommends free movement for passengers from green regions, with low virus rates, but allows member states to set their own rules for travellers from areas designated orange, which is medium risk, or red, where infections are high.

Mr Wilson said it was “shocking” that the airline would not be serving the Republic’s second city between mid-November and December 13th.

He blamed Government policy, which he said told people not to fly. “You cannot operate an airline with no passengers,” he told the committee.

‘Demonising air travel’

Mr Wilson also criticised the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) for demonising air travel during the summer while Covid-19 cases were actually spiking in domestic settings such as meat plants.

“Already they are saying that people cannot come home for Christmas; they are dealing a death blow to this industry in Ireland, ” Mr Wilson declared.

Earlier, he said the closure of its Cork and Shannon airport bases could have been avoided or mitigated if the Government had acted sooner.

Mr Wilson said he had not received one phone call from either Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan or his Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton since his last appearance at the committee on October 7th.

He called on Ministers to implement the EU’s traffic light system for safe air travel immediately and to act on the Task Force on Aviation Recovery recommendations, published in July.

Mr Wilson said airlines were cutting back in response to the crisis, so there would be fewer flights in Europe.

“Ireland is at the bottom of the list at the moment because it’s closed for business,” he warned.

The Department of Transport said the Government was committed to aviation’s survival and recovery when appropriate.

Its statement added that the Government would announce details of plans to implement the EU traffic light system in coming weeks.