Ryanair flight cuts provide neat illustration of industry’s challenges

Cantillon: Government restrictions, weak bookings prompt cuts on some routes

Ryanair’s announcement that it will cut flights in September and October provides a neat illustration of the challenges that the Irish airline group - and its industry - faces as the world struggles to get airborne again.

Government restrictions and weak bookings have prompted the airline to cut the frequency of flights on some routes for next month and the following one. The overall reductions across its network will be 20 per cent.

Among the restrictions Ryanair highlights are those in place here, which the airline says include the most limited green list of safe travel destinations in the EU. Countries, such as Germany, with lower rates of Covid-19 infection, remain off the list.

Ryanair's cuts will be heavily focused on countries including Spain and France, whose recent rises in coronavirus cases have prompted other nations to impose restrictions on travellers from there.

Late last week, the UK government took France off its green list, hitting the share price of both Ryanair and Aer Lingus owner, International Consolidated Airlines' Group, in the process.

Hand-in-hand

Restrictions and weak bookings obviously go hand-in-hand. The two things are likely to be a continuing feature of life over the near future. Ryanair Designated Activity Company chief executive Eddie Wilson last month reminded the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response that the virus is likely to flare up in different regions around Europe.

Ryanair has also noted that the Republic's travel restrictions failed to prevent a recent rise in Covid-19 cases here. The airline contrasted our situation with that of Italy, which has been open to EU travel since July 1st, yet whose 14-day Covid-19 case rate is half of ours.

Spikes in infection rates are something that airlines, national governments and travellers are going to have to manage. However, the cuts announced on Monday must pose an immediate threat to Ryanair’s own hopes to restore around 70 per cent of its normal schedule for September.