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Ryanair Significantly Reduces Flight Schedules

European budget airline, Ryanair, has drastically cut flight schedules following dismal passenger traffic forecasts for Q1 of 2021 as a result of COVID-19. The news follows Ryanair’s plans, announced last year, to create a number of new flight routes across its UK airport bases.

Ryanair’s Group CEO, Michael O’Leary, said of the flight cuts “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.”

The significant reduction in flights has led to speculation that Ryanair’s base at London Southend Airport, which only launched in 2019, could be forced to close. Whilst nothing has been confirmed, the news would be particularly detrimental given easyJet’s decision to close its Southend base in summer 2020. Southend councillor, Mark Flewitt said the decision to cut Ryanair flights from Southend Airport would be “dire”.

Operations at Ryanair’s Cork base in Ireland is also set to experience a particularly slow recovery due to the airport’s high cost of operations. It’s expected that Cork will offer a generous discount framework’ to stimulate post-pandemic recovery.

Ryanair has stated that 2021 could be its most challenging year in its 35-year history as anticipated that their full yearly loss could exceed EUR 1 billion. The airline flew just 1.3 million passengers from Birmingham Airport in January, compared to 10.8 million during the same month in 2020.

It’s expected that passenger traffic will continue to dwindle over the coming months due to COVID-19, with a 95% reduction during February and March before an expected recovery in the summer. The airline expects to fly just 500,000 passengers in February and March, where typically it would fly around 10 million each month.

Ryanair announces new flight routes

Ryanair’s planned routes to Europe

In 2020, Ryanair announced a significant number of new flight routes, in the hope that the COVID-19 infection rates would soon decline and passenger traffic would improve. Some of the newly planned flight routes included: Alicante (five times a week), Barcelona Reus (twice weekly), Bilbao (four times a week, Brest (twice weekly), Corfu (twice weekly), Cluj, Romania (three times a week), Dublin (twice daily), Faro (five times a week), Kosice, Slovakia (three times a week), Malaga (five times a week), Milan Bergamo (four times a week), Palma (four times a week) and Venice (four times a week), and was set to attract an additional one million passengers each year.

Further planned routes by Ryanair included flights to Bergerac (three times a week), Bucharest (five times a week), Girona (two times a week), Marseille (two times a week), Venice Treviso (four times a week) and Vilnius (three times a week).

Uncertain future for Ryanair’s Southend base

Ryanair’s GBP 225 million venture into its Southend base in 2019 was set to significantly increase passenger levels at the Essex airport. Warwick Brady, Chief Executive Officer of Stobart Group, which owns and operates London Southend Airport, forecast in 2019 that the Ryanair base could welcome over 5 million passengers a year by 2022. Sadly, the ongoing effects of COVID-19 and the introduction of new restrictions have halted these developments, leaving the future of the Southend base hanging in the balance.

Southend airport is particularly useful for its transport links. Trains from Southend airport’s railway station, opposite the main terminal, take around 50 minutes to reach Liverpool Street, in London. In peak time there are up to eight trains an hour.

The airline introduced a new Southend flight schedule in April 2020, which was on course to create 635 new on-site jobs per annum and deliver 850,000 customers to their holiday destinations, said Ryanair’s Senior Communications Manager, Alejandra Ruiz.

The future for Ryanair in 2021 and beyond

Whilst Q1 of 2021 looks to be another disappointing period for Ryanair, the airline is confident that passenger traffic will pick up once coronavirus recedes and further vaccines have been administered across the UK. The airline commented, “Ryanair and its partner airports will rapidly restore schedules, recover lost traffic, help the nations of Europe to reboot their tourism industry, and create jobs for young people across the cities and beaches of the EU.”

Michael O’Leary forecasts that Ryanair’s passengers will recover between July and September and see levels return to 70% – 90% capacity from October – March 2022.  The airline, however, has been critical of the EU’s slow rollout of its vaccine programme in comparison to the UK, stating that they need to step up their performance.

With strong confidence that summer 2021 will see an uptick in passenger traffic, the airline is proceeding with plans to expand across Europe. Bases will be opened in Italy, including Treviso, Venice, Verona, Naples and Bari. There is also set to be a base in Beauvais, Northern France and Shannon in the West of Ireland.

With plans to lower fares even lower, Ryanair predicts that by 2026, the airline will see around 200 million passengers per year, with the majority of flights using a Boeing 737 Max.

The Boeing 737 Max is viewed as a significant milestone in the aviation industry due to its fuel efficiency, which creates allowances for lowering fares.

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