CEO of Ryanair Eddie Wilson publicly announced on Wednesday that all of the airline’s flights at Cork Airport will be grounded from November 4.
Mr Wilson confirmed the decision to pull all flights from both Cork and Shannon airports at a meeting of the Committee on Transport and Communications Networks on Wednesday afternoon.
The meeting was attended by both Mr Wilson and Interim CEO of Aer Lingus Dónal Moriarty via video link.
At the meeting, Mr Wilson confirmed that Ryanair will be grounding all flights from Cork Airport for a four-week period, telling TDs that the passenger numbers out of both Cork and Shannon airports have been “shocking” in recent months.
Asked by TD Kieran O’Donnell why he had decided to discontinue any flights out of Cork and Shannon from November 4, just four days before the EU traffic light system is due to come into force, Mr Wilson said it was “because we’ve got no demand”.
“There are no passengers,” he said.
“In the airline industry, we need to know if people are going to travel or not. If we were going to sort out the bookings for November, well then we should have had a new system in place at least last September so we could deal with bookings. I can only deal with what I have and the simple answer is we’re not flying, because there’s nobody booking. It’s as simple as that.
“It’s up to the Minister to come in and talk to us and say what things might work, what's the reasons for doing X, Y and Z. I don't know whether testing in orange zones will work or not, maybe they’ll prove us wrong, but we need a track record on that as to whether it will work or not. I keep coming back to this, at the moment in other European countries you can fly without that and we are an outlier and we’ve been an outlier since the start of this.
“We’re now reaping that through places like Cork and Shannon that really depend on high load factors and there’s nobody booking so there’s nothing I can do about it,” he said.
Interim CEO of Aer Lingus Dónal Moriarty also informed the committee that flights on the airline’s Cork/Heathrow route will be reduced for the coming weeks.
Managing Director at Cork Airport, Niall MacCarthy, said the news of Ryanair’s cancellation of all flights was “a further body blow to the Irish aviation industry and to Cork and the South of Ireland in particular”.
“The Irish aviation ecosystem is already extremely weakened and fragile and each blow delivers further incremental damage. It is acknowledged that as an island nation with an open economy we have to learn to co-exist with this virus for quite some time yet.
“In that regard, we welcome 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. The mechanisms and protocols for this are yet to be agreed in Ireland and this is beyond urgent now,” he said.
Cork Airport still expects at this stage to have between 14 and 18 flights per week with KLM and Aer Lingus serving Amsterdam and Heathrow during the period from November 15 to December 5.
The airport plans to continue to provide services for search and rescue flights, coastguard helicopter, Garda helicopter, Irish Aer Corps, Medical evacuation (medevac) and transplant flights.
Mr MacCarthy said that passenger numbers are likely to 9,000 versus 172,000 in the same month last year, a decrease of 95%.
In a statement issued to The Echo, a spokesperson for Ryanair said that the reduced winter schedule has taken total capacity down to 40% compared to the prior year.
“As a result of continuous Government mismanagement and a complete collapse in travel demand, additional cuts regrettably had to be made across our Irish airports.
“From November 4 to December 12, Ryanair will only operate from Dublin Airport in Ireland, but operations will resume on December 14 ahead of the Christmas season to allow Irish families to reunite.”
Mr Wilson told the committee on Wednesday that Ryanair will “put on extra flights if there is sufficient demand to bring people home for Christmas” and will operate flights in and out of Cork and Shannon from mid-December.
He said that he hopes to have both bases fully reopened next summer from April 1 onwards.
Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, said that we are at a “critical point for the survival of Cork Airport” after Wednesday’s announcements.
“There are countless local people relying on the Airport for jobs and income. Those thousands of families will be deeply worried by today’s comments. I have spoken with many workers, who are extremely concerned for what the future will hold for them and their employment.
“Whilst I understand that decisions were made in the interest of public health with regards international travel, I do not understand why the Government have not shown leadership here, and have not planned for the future.
“We will still need air travel in Cork after the pandemic is over. We will still need a viable international airport. If the Government does not act, and soon, Cork is at risk of losing its airport for good,” he said.
Refunds for the now-cancelled flights from Cork Airport are being issued and Mr Wilson said that anyone who wanted a cash refund has got a cash refund.
“It is very accessible on the website. You'll find people that are noisy about this were not entitled to a refund but what I can tell you is that if you are entitled to a valid refund you will get it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the airline has called on Transport Minister Eamon Ryan to take immediate action to preserve Ireland’s connectivity with the rest of Europe.
A spokesperson for Ryanair said: “It’s about time Minister Ryan actually took some action about preserving Irish air transport. Ireland is an island on the periphery of Europe, yet we have been cut off by NPHET’s mismanagement of air travel, and a Green List comprising of zero countries. The EU Traffic Light Travel System allows for regionalisation, and under these measures, travel to and from the Canary Islands and the Greek Islands should now be permitted without any defective Covid quarantines.
“We also call on Minister Ryan to urgently implement pre-travel testing so that Irish citizens can return to unrestricted air travel to and from regions of Europe that are either ‘green’ or ‘amber’ on the EU Traffic Light Travel System. It is ridiculous that Irish citizens can travel to Belfast and fly to the Canary Islands or the Greek Islands without restriction, but cannot do so from Dublin because of Minister Ryan’s failure and inaction,” the spokesperson said.