Ryanair cuts winter flights again

Europe's biggest airline expects to fly just 38m passengers this financial year - less than a third of last year’s total

Ryanair has cut its winter schedule again, closed three bases and warned of further job losses as virus-induced restrictions continue to hammer air travel. 

Europe’s biggest airline will cut its capacity between November and March to 40pc of last year’s levels, down from its previous forecast of 60pc, blaming weak demand on “mismanagement” of the pandemic by European governments. 

As a result of the cuts, the carrier will close two of its Irish bases and one in Toulouse during the winter, as well as reducing the number of planes based at airports in Belgium, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Austria.  

At bases where the airline has not secured agreements on cuts to working hours and pay with employees, chief executive Michael O’Leary said there will be further redundancies among cabin crew staff. 

In May, Ryanair announced plans to axe 3,000 roles but recently said it expected the total number of job losses to be lower than originally thought after employees agreed to pay cuts. 

The bleak update highlights the deep crisis affecting the aviation industry.

After failing to enjoy a meaningful summer recovery when Covid-19 was suppressed in many regions, the sector faces months of pain as its moves into the loss-making winter season with the virus once again surging across the continent. 

The introduction of blanket quarantine restrictions has hammered demand and the industry’s call for testing at airports to replace the draconian measures has mostly fallen on deaf ears. 

Ryanair now expects to fly just 38m passengers this financial year, down from almost 150m last year, but said that estimate could be revised down further if harsher lockdowns were imposed. 

New restrictions on travel caused forward bookings to “weaken slightly” in October, it said, but had been “materially” impacted in November and December.

Last week, rival easyJet pleaded for taxpayer support as it also cut capacity to just a quarter of last year’s levels for the rest of the year and into 2021. 

Analysts at Peel Hunt said they also expect Wizz Air to cut its winter schedule again in the coming weeks, in light of new virus curbs. 

Mr O’Leary said: “We have continued to flex our capacity in September and October to reflect both market conditions and changing government restrictions, with the objective of sustaining a 70pc load factor, which allows us operate as close to break-even as possible and minimise cash burn.”

“While the Covid situation remains fluid and hard to predict, we must now cut our full year traffic forecast to 38m guests,” he added.

“While we deeply regret these winter schedule cuts, they have been forced upon us by Government mismanagement of EU air travel. 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.”

He also called for governments to adopt the European Commission's traffic light system for air travel, which would see no travel restrictions on regions with a virus rate below 50 per 100,000 of the population.

Shares fell 3.3pc to €11.92 in early trading.