Ryanair, Stansted Airport's biggest airline, contemplates grounding its entire fleet
Stansted's biggest airline, Ryanair, is cutting its capacity by up to 80% over the next two months and is warning a "full grounding of the fleet cannot be ruled out".
In a statement on Monday (March 16) the Irish budget carrier gave a stark account of the difficulties it and the rest of the aviation sector is now facing.
"Over the past seven days, Italy, Malta, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Greece, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Poland, Norway and Cyprus have imposed flight bans of varying degrees, from all flights to/from the country, or banned flights to/from countries with high risk of Covid infection.
"Over the weekend, for example, Poland and Norway have banned all international flights, while in other countries (without travel bans) there has been severe reduction of ATC (air traffic control) and essential airport services.
"Ryanair expects the result of these restrictions will be the grounding of the majority of its aircraft fleet across Europe over the next seven to 10 days. In those countries where the fleet is not grounded, social distancing restrictions may make flying, to all intents and purposes, impractical, if not impossible.
"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."
Ryanair operates just over 300 Boeing 737-800 aircraft serving 225 destinations. It employs some 17,000 people.
A raft of measures to keep the company afloat during the "unprecedented" crisis is being implemented, including grounding surplus aircraft, freezing recruitment and discretionary spending and implementing a series of voluntary leave options, temporarily suspending employment contracts and significant reductions to working hours and payments.
Ryanair's immediate priority is repatriating those customers still abroad as it predicts the current "substantial" decline in bookings to "continue for the foreseeable future".
Boss Michael O'Leary said: "We are doing everything we can to meet the challenge posed by the Covid-19 outbreak, which has over the last week caused extraordinary and unprecedented travel restrictions.
"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.
"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."