Ryanair will significantly scale back its operations on Monday in response to coronavirus.
The airline has already cancelled around 20% of its flights for the period until 9th April but is expected to make more significant cuts to its schedule beyond that date following a sustained slump in bookings across the industry.
Ryanair is Europe’s largest budget airline and operates 2400 flights a day. The company is considering reducing its timetable by as much as 40% as more European governments impose restrictions in attempts to delay the spread of the virus.
Ryanair employs 9,000 cabin crew, 5000 pilots. The scale of the changes means the airline will ask more staff to take unpaid leave.
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Ten days ago the chief executive of Ryanair, Micheal O’Leary, said that bookings were down 25% on last year but that he was hopeful that “things will have calmed down by the time the Easter school holidays arrive.” But sales have continued to fall.
The slump in demand for air travel is world-wide and is putting airlines under extreme financial pressure. On Friday, the CEO of British Airways told staff to expect job cuts. Alex Cruz said coronavirus outbreak was a “crisis of global proportions, like no other we have known”.
The unions are in talks with all of the airlines in an attempt to protect as many jobs as possible.
Until now many airlines have been forced to operate near-empty flights due to an EU regulation that requires them to ”use or lose” 80% of the valuable landing slots they have been allocated at airports.
On Friday afternoon the European Commission formally relaxed the rule until June and airlines are responding by adjusting their schedules.
Virgin Atlantic and EasyJet are expected to cut the number of flights they operate early next week. In the case of Virgin it will be by at least 20%.
Tonight the Unite union says it is worried that “thousands” of staff will be laid off and called on the government to do more to support airlines.
Unite wants ministers to extend taxpayer loans, subsidise routes, cut the Air Passenger Duty tax and, if necessary, take stakes in airlines to ensure they survive.