Ryanair has today become the latest airline to ground much of its fleet amid the coronavirus outbreak, which has already seen Flybe go into administration and industry leaders ask for £7.5bn of government aid.
Airlines across the world – particularly in Asia, Europe and the US – have been forced into emergency measures as borders have closed and would-be tourists have scrapped holiday plans.
Irish carrier Ryanair has today revealed it is cancelling 80% of fights until May, and says it has not ruled out the possibility of fully grounding all aircraft in the weeks to come.
A company statement said: “For April and May, Ryanair now expects to reduce its seat capacity by up to 80%, and a full grounding of the fleet cannot be ruled out.
“In those countries where the fleet is not grounded, social distancing restrictions may make flying to all intents and purposes, impractical, if not, impossible.”
The firm said it is taking ‘immediate action to reduce operating expenses and improve cash flows’ following a ‘substantial decline in bookings’ as flight restrictions are imposed across much of Europe.
but its Chief Executive Michael O’Leary insisted Ryanair is well-placed to weather the storm.
O’Leary said: “We are communicating with all affected passengers by email and SMS, and we are organising rescue flights to repatriate customers, even in those countries where travel bans have been imposed.
“Our priority remains the health and welfare of our people and our passengers, and we are doing everything we can to ensure that they can be reunited with their friends and families during these difficult times.
“Ryanair is taking all actions necessary to cut operating expenses, and improve cash flows at each of our airlines.
“Ryanair is a resilient airline group, with a very strong balance sheet, and substantial cash liquidity, and we can, and will, with appropriate and timely action, survive through a prolonged period of reduced or even zero flight schedules, so that we are adequately prepared for the return to normality, which will come about sooner rather than later as EU governments take unprecedented action to restrict the spread of Covid-19.”
The decision follows a weekend plea by aviation leaders for government support for the industry during this unprecedented disruption.
Share prices in virtually all airlines have dropped by more than 50% since the virus hit Europe, with many planes grounded and jobs at risk.
Trade body Airlines UK said: “The time for action is now. No more delays or prevarication or bean-counting.
“We’re talking about the future of UK aviation – one of our world-class industries – and unless government pulls itself together, who knows what will be left of it once we get out of this mess.”