Approximately 60 Ryanair staff risk losing their jobs following the airline’s decision to close its Cork Airport base for the winter season.
But the impact of the base closure will be felt far beyond the airline amid mounting calls for government action to save Ireland’s aviation industry.
After several weeks of warnings, Ryanair's group CEO Michael O'Leary confirmed this morning the winter closures of its bases in Cork, Shannon and Toulouse as well as significant base aircraft cuts in Belgium, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Vienna.
The news comes as thehas learned Aer Lingus is continuing with its review of the future of its operations at Cork and Shannon, further increasing the pressure on the Government.
Aer Lingus was the first of the two airlines to say, in late July, it was reviewing the future of the bases over the winter months, after its parent group IAG reported huge worldwide losses amid the Covid-19 crisis.
It operates key services to Heathrow and Amsterdam from Cork Airport.
Including ground staff and cabin crew, Aer Lingus employs around 350 people at Cork and Shannon, more than half of that number at Cork Airport.
Aer Lingus had said in the summer it was inevitable that the Covid-19 crisis for air travel would mean it would become a smaller airline as it investigated the viability of its bases at Cork and Shannon.
Aer Lingus had told staff in late July that the review of its operations in Ireland was "critical" to ensure that the airline would recover when the Covid-19 health crisis lifted.
In Cork, the Ryanair decision is a devastating blow for the airline staff and to Cork Airport in particular, where passenger numbers grew from 2.4m in 2018 to 2.6m in 2019, an increase of 8% year-on-year.
Ryanair, which has had a base at Cork Airport since 2005, carried about 1.3m of those passengers last year.
But Covid-19 has decimated international air traffic. Ryanair’s winter base closure leaves Cork Airport with just five routes and with passenger traffic back to levels it had shortly after it opened in 1961.
The airport is keen to stress that Ryanair will continue to operate services from Cork to London Stansted, and to the Polish cities of Katowice and Gdansk, that Aer Lingus will continue to operate its Heathrow and Amsterdam routes, while KLM also continues on the Amsterdam route.
But as Ryanair pilots, cabin crew and engineering staff based in Cork come to terms with the base closure, staff who work in the vast supply chain network which supported those flight operations are now bracing for bad news.
A ground handling services company, which had 120 staff on duty pre-Covid, cut its numbers to 30 during lockdown to support Ryanair which maintained its Cork to London Stansted service.
The airport’s executive lounge is closed, and staff at aviation fuel companies, staff in disability services and catering are also facing an anxious future.
Aviation industry sources said tough decisions will be required given the vastly reduced schedule of flights.
A spokesman for the airport said it will continue to support search and rescue operations, Air Corps flights, as well as medevac, organ donor and similar flights.
Airport managing director, Niall MacCarthy, said they did everything in their power to retain the Ryanair base but the reality was that since the pandemic, many Ryanair flights to and from Cork have been operating with fewer than 10 passengers.
“The Irish aviation sector has been decimated by Covid-19 and the country needs to get to a position where we have the appropriate travel policies in place to enable Ireland to co-exist with the virus whilst safely re-opening our vital air connectivity,” he said.
“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."
Fórsa, which represents many of the affected Ryanair staff, has called on the government to intervene to support the aviation industry.
Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune and FG Senator Jerry Buttimer, a member of the Oireachtas transport committee, have both urged the government to act on the Aviation Recovery Taskforce Report to ensure the survival of the regional airports in particular.