Ryanair has confirmed that 80 crew members working at Cork Airport are to be laid off.
A spokesperson for the company told the Echo that the staff members would be "temporarily laid off in winter."
Earlier this morning the company announced that it is to close its winter base at the airport, as well as in Shannon.
The announcement has been met with great concern, with Fórsa trade union saying the news “has struck a devastating blow for crew and pilots at these bases, their families and communities, as well as for other airport staff and the economies of both regions.”
Ian Mc Donnell, the Fórsa official representing pilots at Ryanair, said the airline’s management did not make contact and allow for proper time to engage with the union before making the decision.
“The union’s mission since the pandemic struck the country in March has been to worked closely with all aviation employers, including Ryanair, in order to maximise job protection.
“Fórsa has called on the Government to intervene to support the industry because Ireland’s connectivity through aviation is crucial to its economy. The industry supports quality jobs throughout the country,” he said.
Niall MacCarthy, Managing Director at Cork Airport said the team there “is really devastated to hear of Ryanair’s decision to close its base at Cork with the loss of so many direct and indirect jobs and the cessation of thirteen routes.” He added: “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.” Mr MacCarthy said 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.” The airport expects to see a 95 per cent plus reduction in traffic levels for this coming winter compared to last year.
Ryanair will 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.
Ryanair has had a base at Cork Airport since 2005, and this winter will be the first time in fifteen years that the airline has not had any aircraft based in Cork.
“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 MacCarthy said.
Fergal Harte, Cork Chair of the Irish Hotels Federation said they were “really disappointed” with the news.
“I know everyone at the airport has done everything possible to keep Ryanair - it's hugely disappointing for everyone from the airport and for the hospitality sector generally and for Cork.
"Obviously we're very concerned anyway for the future. The Government has worked hard to put some good support in place - there’s still plenty to be done on that front. The news about the airport this morning has increased the concern that we have for the future. Obviously, a lot of the hotels have been heavily reliant, particularly across the winter months, on international business and the fact that none of that really is coming in now is of massive concern."
Mr Harte said every effort must be made to ensure the return of all Ryanair routes next spring and to safeguard the existing routes at the airport over the coming months.
"This is essential to avoid the risk of long-term damage to the tourism industry and the wider economy in the south of Ireland,” he said.
“As a gateway to the region, Cork airport is a vital component of our tourism infrastructure. On behalf of Cork IHF members, I appeal to Government to ensure that the airport is provided with the targeted policy and financial supports required to ensure it continues to provide air access to key international markets."
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, he said that tourism supported 25,300 jobs in Cork and contributed €895 million to the local economy.
Mr Harte said the international connectivity offered by Cork Airport contributed enormously to that growth, by providing the easy access that is essential to attract business and overseas visitors to the region. “Tourism in Cork and the wider region has enormous potential. It can and will recover, but that requires a fully operational airport with regular connections to key markets," he said.
The Department of Transport confirmed in a statement that it had been informed that Ryanair will close its bases at Cork and Shannon Airports for the winter as part of its decision to cut capacity on its flights across Europe.
A statement from the Department said: “The government recognises that today’s news will be a blow to Ryanair staff, other affected workers and the airports and regions involved. The Government is fully alert to the devastating impact the global pandemic has had on international travel and appreciates and acknowledges the important role of Ryanair and Shannon and Cork Airports to the economies of the Midwest and South regions respectively.” It said that the Government has agreed to adopt the EU “traffic light” system for international travel and a decision on implementation is expected at a Cabinet meeting next week.
“The government is committed to the survival and recovery of the sector, including Shannon and Cork Airports, and has already indicated that further Covid Support funding will be made available to safeguard strategic connectivity and resilience into the future.
“Budget 2021 already includes a provision of €10m to address challenges facing Cork and Shannon Airports. This is in addition to €6.1m in emergency funding provided to Shannon Airport in June this year to complete a safety and security project.
“Airports generally as well as the airlines will of course continue will to benefit from the economy-wide support measures that are open to all sectors – notably wage supports and tax deferrals,” it added.
Cork Airport management have said they did everything in their power to retain the Ryanair base for the region, which it has been confirmed will close for the winter.
Niall MacCarthy, Managing Director at Cork Airport said: “The team here at Cork Airport is really devastated to hear of Ryanair’s decision to close its base at Cork with the loss of so many direct and indirect jobs and the cessation of thirteen routes.
"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."
He went on to say that the sector has been decimated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"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.
"Cork Airport was Ireland’s fastest-growing airport before Covid-19 and we are now looking at a 95% plus reduction in traffic levels for this coming winter compared to last year," he added.
Mr MacCarthy also confirmed, however, that three Ryanair routes will serve Cork during the winter months - Stansted, Katowice and Gdansk.
These routes will be operated by aircraft and staff based outside of Ireland.
Mr MacCarthy continued: "Ryanair has had a base at Cork Airport since 2005, and this winter will be the first time in fifteen years that the airline has not had any aircraft based in Cork.
"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.
"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. The continuity of all or any of these services cannot be taken for granted and we will continue to work with the Government and our airline customers to retain this hard-won connectivity as best we can this winter”.
Ryanair are set to close their bases at Cork and Shannon Airports for the winter, with unpaid leave, job sharing, and reduced working time and pay to be implemented in some areas.
Redundancies at a "small number of cabin crew bases" where the company has not secured agreement on working time and pay cuts is also inevitable, the company says.
They have also confirmed that their base in Toulouse, France, is set to close.
Ryanair Group Chief Executive Michael O'Leary had previously warned that the airline would close its bases in Cork and Dublin for winter, over what the airline claimed was the governments’ “mismanagement” of the green travel list.
The move comes as the airline cuts capacity from 60% to 40% across Winter compared to last year.
In a statement, the company said that increased flight restrictions imposed by EU Governments, air travel to and from much of Central Europe, the UK, Ireland, Austria, Belgium and Portugal have been heavily curtailed, which in turn has caused forward bookings to weaken slightly in October, but materially in November and December.
Mr O'Leary said this decision was "forced upon us by Government mismanagement of EU air travel".
“We have continued to flex our capacity in Sept & Oct to reflect both market conditions and changing Government restrictions, with the objective of sustaining a 70% load factor, which allows us operate as close to breakeven 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 said.
"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.
"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.
"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," he added.
Mr O'Leary concluded by calling on EU Governments to adopt and implement the EU Commission’s Traffic Light System, "which allows for safe air travel between EU states on a regional basis to continue (without defective travel restrictions) for those countries and regions of Europe, who are able to demonstrate that their Covid case rates are less than 50 per 100,000 population.” Speaking this morning, Conor Healy, Cork Chamber CEO described the announcement as "hugely damaging" for connectivity in the area.
“The announcement by Ryanair today that it is to close its Cork base puts Cork Airport on the ropes and will be devastating for the staff impacted directly and indirectly. The gravity of the pandemic is displayed once again.
"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.
"However, beyond this, a firm commitment to EU travel standards and most importantly the ability to implement proactive travel testing without delay remains acute and essential," Mr Healy said.
"There can be no doubting the track record of Cork Airport as Ireland’s fastest growing airport with 30% passenger growth in the years leading up to this pandemic and with expected passenger numbers this year of 2.8 million. 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," he added.
"As we emphasised throughout Autumn, international connectivity is the foundation on which business, tourism and hospitality is built.
"Cork Airport directly and indirectly supports 12,000 jobs in the region and generated over €900 million for the Irish economy in 2019 and is a key driver of the Cork economy."
Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire tweeted: "Deeply disappointing news, and worrying for the future. The Government must work with Cork airport to salvage as much as possible from this in terms of jobs. Cork back to 60s levels of connectivity. We need a clear plan for the airports future."
Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer also tweeted: "Ryanair announcement on base closure @CorkAirport disappointing and requires urgent government action. Aviation recovery task force should be reconvened."
Cork Airport has been in the headlines recently after management revealed it expects to lose around €20m this year after passenger numbers plummeted by around 95% during lockdown.
Last week, the daa warned a government committee that Cork Airport is ‘running on empty’.
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath, in this week's budget, said that a €10 million provision would be made to address challenges facing Cork and Shannon Airports.