Struggling with a shortage of pilots, Irish low-cost airline Ryanair says it plans to cancel thousands more flights until March next year. Hundreds of thousands of travelers are set to be affected.
Irish no-frills carrier Ryanair cancelled another 18,000 flights on Wednesday and said it plans to fly 25 fewer aircraft during its winter schedule, hitting around 400,000 customers until March. The move signals a deepening of the cancellations crisis that has afflicted the company since mid-September.
In addition, Ryanair said it will operate ten fewer aircraft from April 2018. The group said the move would "eliminate all risk of further flight cancellations, because slower growth creates lots of spare aircraft and crews across Ryanair's 86 bases this winter."
The latest announcement will affect 34 routes, including London-Belfast and Hamburg-Oslo, and slow the Dublin-based airline's growth plans.
"While over 99 percent of our 129 million customers will not have been affected by any cancellations or disruptions, we deeply regret any doubt we caused existing customers ... about Ryanair's reliability, or the risk of further cancellations," said chief executive Michael O'Leary.
Ryanair had already canned 2,100 flights in the six weeks to the end of October as it struggled with landing planes on time, reportedly mainly owing to a shortage of pilots. Weather issues and strikes have also hampered the airline's performance.
Ryanair on Wednesday said it had emailed all passengers hit by the latest cancellations, offering them alternative flights or a full refund. There was no immediate indication of how costly to Ryanair the latest cancellations would be.
The grounding of planes to the end of next month was already set to cost the company €25 million ($30 million) - €5 million of lost profit and €20 million in compensation under EU rules - O'Leary said.
Ryanair is currently scrapping 40 to 50 flights daily - "less than two percent" of its flying program - to address problems caused also by air traffic control (ATC) delays, strikes and weather disruption.
But the Dublin-based carrier has admitted that it has been hit also by pilots and cabin crew being forced to take outstanding holiday entitlement by the end of the year as part of new company rules. In other developments, Ryanair said it was dropping its bid to acquire Italian rival Alitalia.
sri/jbh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)