Ryanair will close its Cork and Shannon Airport bases and slash Knock services for the winter as EU states, including the Republic, step up travel restrictions.
Michael O'Leary, Ryanair Holdings chief executive, confirmed the news on Thursday, as bookings for November and December "materially" weakened.
Ryanair’s decision means that 135 pilots and crew, 80 in Cork and 55 in Shannon, will be laid off temporarily until April.
Ian McDonnell, of trade union Fórsa, which represents Ryanair workers, pledged that the organisation would seek talks with the airline to establish if there was an alternative to temporary lay-offs.
Mr McDonnell, who negotiates on behalf of the airline’s pilots, expressed disappointment that Ryanair had not contacted Fórsa ahead of announcing the closures on Thursday.
“Fórsa is recognised by Ryanair and we engage on many collective issues with them,” he said.
“They should also engage before finalising such a significant decision as announced today.”
Knock Airport confirmed that the airline would halt flights from there to Bristol and East Midlands in Britain and Malaga in Spain for the winter.
It will significantly cut services to London Stansted and Luton, and to Liverpool. Knock Airport said this would lead to an overall 80 per cent reduction in Ryanair services for winter, and described it as a "devastating blow".
Ryanair will maintain services between London Stansted and Cork and Shannon, which will also retain Manchester flights.
It will also keep flying from several different eastern European cities to both airports. However, pilots and crew based outside the Republic will operate these flights.
Ryanair is closing its Toulouse base for the winter, and making significant cuts in Belgium, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Vienna.
Mr O’Leary said the group “deeply regretted” the cuts but blamed EU governments’ mismanagement of travel.
“There will regrettably be more redundancies at those small number of cabin crew bases, where we have still not secured agreement on working time and pay cuts, which is the only alternative,” he said.
Mr O’Leary noted there would be more unpaid leave and job sharing at bases where the airline had agreements on working time and pay cuts.
Ryanair now expects to carry 38 million in its current financial year, which ends on March 31st, 2021, from an original target of 154 million, set before Covid-19 struck last spring.
“Our focus continues to be on maintaining as large a schedule as we can sensibly operate to keep our aircraft, our pilots and our cabin crew current and employed while minimising job losses,” Mr O’Leary said.
He urged all EU governments to adopt the “traffic-light” system agreed this week by the Council of Foreign Ministers.
Mr O’Leary said this would allow free travel between regions where Covid-19 rates were less than 50 people for every 100,000.
Aviation industry bodies, including Airlines for Europe, of which Ryanair is a member, expressed frustration with the outcome of the foreign ministers' meeting.
While the ministers agreed there should be free travel from “green” areas, with infection rates below 50/100,000, they conceded that member states could set restrictions on those travelling from regions with higher rates, designated “orange” and “red” under the proposed system.
Airlines, airports and other industry players had wanted free travel between green and orange regions, while they hoped tests confirming that travellers from red zones were Covid-free would replace quarantines.
Meanwhile, current guidelines mean that all those entering the Republic, except from the North, must spend 14 days in self-isolation.
The Department of Transport confirmed on Thursday that the Government intended adopting the traffic-light system, saying Cabinet would decide on implementing it next week.