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.