Aer Lingus has put the future of its Cork and Shannon bases up for review as the airline grapples with huge losses and seeks to lay off up to 500 staff amid the Covid-19 economic crisis for aviation.
The unprecedented review of its operations at the two airports comes as the airline posted huge losses and stepped up its criticism of the Government’s restrictions on international travellers into the island.
Including ground staff and cabin crew, Aer Lingus employs around 350 people at Cork and Shannon airports, of which over half are employed at Cork.
In a video message to staff, Aer Lingus chief executive Sean Doyle said the crisis will mean that Aer Lingus will inevitably be a smaller airline. He told staff that the airline has “no line of sight on any meaningful resumption of operations out of either Cork or Shannon Airports”.
“As such we are reviewing the scale of our flying programme from these airports and the ongoing viability of our regional bases there,” Mr Doyle said.
“These decisions will not be taken lightly but I can assure you that the additional steps that we are now undertaking are necessary and critical to position Aer Lingus for future recovery,” he said.
Aer Lingus has said it is seeking to lay off up to 500 staff from a workforce of around 4,800.
It said it has struck an agreement with the Irish Air Line Pilots' Association, IALPA, but not its two other main unions, Fórsa and Siptu.
Aer Lingus was acquired by the IAG conglomerate run by Willie Walsh five years ago when the Irish Government sold its 25% in the airline.
Aer Lingus posted total operating losses of €316m in the first six months of the year as revenues slid to €377m.
Separately, Mr Walsh told reporters it was already too late to save the planned job losses at Aer Lingus and suggested more job losses could not be ruled out if the crisis were to last for another year.
Mr Walsh did not play down the scale of the crisis facing the airline and took aim at the Government’s Covid health regulations.
He said that “locking up” some air travellers for 14 days made no sense and called on the Government to look again at the rules.
Aer Lingus was lagging the recovery seen by other airlines because of the Government’s restrictions and although the airline understood the need for caution, he said the Irish rules were tougher than those in other countries.
Mr Walsh said the redundancies at the airline were inevitable even if the restrictions were lifted and warned that future job losses could not be ruled out should the crisis last.
“If anybody thinks this is just a temporary issue that can be addressed through some temporary measure all you have to do is look at the scale of the losses,” he said.
He said that the airline was not looking for “a handout” for the Government for aviation.
Cork Chamber said that businesses across the region would be badly hit if direct air services from Cork and Shannon failed to resume.
The Government needs to build confidence-building measures for aviation to prevent damage to the economic prospects of the region, said chamber director of public affairs Thomas McHugh.