Demand for airline bookings is “so weak” that Ryanair is cancelling all flights from Cork Airport for a four week period from mid-November to mid-December, while Aer Lingus is to reduce frequency on the Cork/London Heathrow route.
The news came as “a further body blow” to the Irish aviation industry and to Cork and the South of Ireland in particular, Cork Airport Managing Director Niall MacCarthy said.
“The Irish aviation ecosystem is already extremely weakened and fragile and each blow delivers further incremental damage," he added.
Mr MacCarthy said "we have to learn to co-exist with this virus" and he welcomed the Irish Government’s adoption of the EU traffic light system from November 8.
"However, a low cost, scalable, results pre-departure testing regime needs to form the backbone of the return of confidence in safe air travel," he said.
"The mechanisms and protocols for this are yet to be agreed in Ireland and this is beyond urgent now."
Cork Airport is expecting passenger numbers of around 9,000 this November versus 172,000 in the same month last year, a decrease of 95%.
Speaking to the Oireachtas Transport Committee today, Ryanair CEO Eddie Wilson said the decision to close its base at Cork and Shannon for the winter months could have been averted had the Government engaged with the airline on the issue.
Mr Wilson said he found it “extraordinary” that neither Transport Minister Eamon Ryan nor Minister of State for International and Road Transport and Logistics Hildegarde Naughton, had contacted Ryanair since its last appearance before the committee on October 7.
“If they had come to us before that decision, and we had it well signalled that if they had adopted the traffic light system as it was initially put forward by the European Council, which was freedom of movement for green and amber countries, we made that absolutely clear… we wrote to the Minister on that basis on several occasions and we had no engagement whatsoever.”
“Can you imagine a factory of that size, or Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson closing down in Cork and the Minister for Health or the Minister for Industry and Commerce doesn’t contact the company?”
“We could have explored the options, but we didn’t get that opportunity,” he said.
Donal Moriarty, Aer Lingus chief corporate affairs officer and its interim chief executive, also told the committee he has heard some executives, with “significant investments” in Ireland, expressing a wish to “walk the land” and “review their investment in Ireland.”
“It's quite clear that Ireland is putting itself at a significant disadvantage by the policies its adopted in preventing business traffic,” he said.
Aer Lingus and Ryanair were also questioned on how the airlines were processing consumers refunds.
Mr Moriarty said the company has received in excess of 2 million refund or voucher requests since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, of which they have processed 1.8 million to date.
“The remaining 10% we're working through, some of them are very challenging in terms of the complexity of the bookings, but we are working through them and we are committed to getting those refunds to our customers,” he said.
Ryanair’s Eddie Wilson said, "Anyone who is entitled to a cash refund can get a cash refund and it can be done directly on our website."
"The only people that are outstanding are those that have made bookings through travel agents and once we can identify them we are more than happy to reimburse those people."