'We didn't do anything all summer': Ryanair CEO criticises Eamon Ryan for Covid-19 response

'We didn't do anything all summer': Ryanair CEO criticises Eamon Ryan for Covid-19 response

The airline announced the base closure in Cork and Shannon this morning. File picture. 

Ryanair CEO Eddie Wilson said the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan, has done nothing to help the aviation sector this summer. 

The comments follow the announcement of base closures at Cork and Shannon airport for the winter. 

"We didn't do anything all summer, we discouraged people from traveling, we had a disproportionate effect on travel and instead of actually putting something in place this Minister didn't do anything," Mr Wilson said. 

He added: "So today he could have adapted the [EU] traffic light system without any agreement from anyone but we have now no aviation policy, no travel policy whatsoever from this Minister for Transport." 

Management and staff at Cork airport were "devastated" to learn about the Ryanair base closure this morning. 

The airline went through with its threat to pull out of Cork and Shannon Airports.

No specific date has been given for the withdrawal as yet but the airline said the bases will be closed for the winter season which runs from the end of October until March.

Earlier this month the airline told Transport Minister Eamon Ryan that it would close its Cork and Shannon bases from October 26 for the winter season if the Government did not implement the EU traffic light system to allow for a return of international air travel.

It told Mr Ryan the Government should fully adopt the new EU travel list policy from October 13, which would allow Irish citizens/visitors unrestricted air travel to and from those regions of Europe which are classified by the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) as green and/or amber.

Niall MacCarthy, Managing Director at Cork Airport said they are "devastated" to hear of Ryanair’s decision that involves the cessation of 13 routes from the airport.

"We have done everything in our power at Cork Airport to retain the base here and the connectivity that it delivers for the South of Ireland region. 

However, since the pandemic, many Ryanair flights to and from Cork have been operating with fewer than ten passengers. 

"With the appropriate financial supports and travel policies from Government, we will work tirelessly to secure the return of the Ryanair base at Cork ahead of next summer, when hopefully, the airline will be in a position to replace lost services," Mr McCarthy said.

Ryanair resumed services to 16 destinations from Shannon in July but today’s announcement will see their operation reduced to eight flights serving Stansted, Manchester and Wroclaw for the winter period.

Mary Considine, CEO of Shannon Group said the airline's decision was disappointing both for the airport but also for the entire region.

“The aviation industry is on its knees with further flight restrictions being imposed in EU countries as the virus rates increase. What we need now is a clear pathway to recovery for aviation."

"We had hoped that it would start with a harmonised EU traffic light system. While this was endorsed by Ireland, the measures proposed fall short of what the industry requires. 

"This urgently needs to be addressed and supported by a testing regime at airports to restore confidence and get aviation moving safely again," Ms Considine said.

"While we deeply regret these winter schedule cuts they have been forced upon us by Government mismanagement of EU air travel," said Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary. Picture: Press Association
"While we deeply regret these winter schedule cuts they have been forced upon us by Government mismanagement of EU air travel," said Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary. Picture: Press Association

The Department of Transport said the government recognises the important role of both airports for economies in the South and  Mid-West of Ireland and is "fully alert to the devastating impact the global pandemic has had on international travel". 

The Department said that the government has agreed to adopt the EU traffic light system for international travel, with a decision on implementation expected next week from Cabinet. 

The department said further support funding for both airports would be available. 

Budget 2021 allocated €10m for Shannon and Cork airports to address current challenges. 

Earlier this year in June, Shannon airport received €6.1m in emergency funding to complete a safety and security project.

Capacity cuts

Ryanair announced it would reduce its winter capacity from 60% to 40% in response to reduced bookings for October-December as flight restrictions have caused forward bookings in October to weaken slightly and materially for November and December.  

The airline announced revised traffic figures totalling 38m passengers for the year but warned this could fall further if further restrictions are introduced and hit out at EU government management of air travel. 

"While we deeply regret these winter schedule cuts they have been forced upon us by Government mismanagement of EU air travel," said Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary 

He added: "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. 

"It is inevitable, given the scale of these cutbacks, that we will be implementing more unpaid leave, and job sharing this winter in those bases where we have agreed reduced working time and pay, but this is a better short term outcome than mass job losses."

Mr O'Leary warned of further redundancies as a result of the base closures but predicted a recovery in short-haul air travel with the development of a Covid-19 vaccine.

"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. 

"We continue to actively manage our cost base to be prepared for the inevitable rebound and recovery of short-haul air travel in Europe once an effective Covid-19 vaccine is developed," said Mr O'Leary.

"Safe as possible"

Speaking on RTÉ radio's Morning Ireland this morning, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the Government cannot lift travel restrictions at a time of a global pandemic. 

Mr Coveney said he has been assured by Ryanair that the closures are a temporary decision and if there is a return to “some sort of normality” then the hubs can reopen.

It is understandable that airlines cannot fly planes with nobody on them, he said. “That’s the reality.” Mr Coveney said he has signed Ireland up to the EU’s Traffic Light travel system which would be finalised at the Cabinet meeting next Tuesday.

“We will try to make travel as safe as possible.”

Conor Healy, chief executive of Cork Chamber said Ryanair's decision puts Cork Airport on the ropes and will be devastating for the staff impacted directly and indirectly. 

"This announcement is hugely damaging for regional and national connectivity and raises very real concerns regarding the ability of Cork Airport to avoid closure without further direct financial support from government in addition to that announced and welcomed on Budget Day," he said.

"A firm commitment to EU travel standards and most importantly the ability to implement proactive travel testing without delay remains acute and essential."

If Cork Airport cannot stay on its feet, supports for tourism and hospitality announced in the budget can only be partial and temporary at best.

Davy analysts Stephen Furlong and Ross Harvey described the revised passenger figures and capacity as "no great surprise given the current run rate and as airlines hibernate capacity in the winter months". 

Base operated since 2005

Ryanair served 23 destinations from Cork airport and 13 locations from Shannon before the outbreak of the coronavirus.   

The airline accounted for 81% of traffic at Cork airport which, before Covid-19 struck, was Ireland’s fastest-growing.

Ryanair also accounts for the largest share of passengers carried at Cork airport at 44%. 

Ryanair has had a base at Cork Airport since 2005, and this winter will be the first time in 15 years that the airline has not had any aircraft based in Cork.

The decision could impact more than 70 pilots and cabin crew directly employed by the airline at the base in Cork. 

135 jobs in total are impacted by the announcement when Shannon staff are included. 

Despite the base closure, Ryanair will still retain three routes serving Cork over the winter - Stansted, Katowice and Gdansk. 

However, these routes will be operated by aircraft and staff based outside of Ireland. 

In addition to those three Ryanair routes, Cork Airport will also have a service to Amsterdam with KLM this winter and Aer Lingus will operate services to Heathrow and Amsterdam.

As well as base closures in Cork and Shannon, the Toulouse operation in France has also been closed during the five-month period. 

Ryanair also announced significant base cuts in Belgium, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Austria.

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