Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ryanair going to cut Dublin flights

Chief Executive Michael O'Leary blamed government-regulated charges, rather than Ireland's recession, for a rapid fall over the past year in Irish traffic.

Ryanair, Ireland's major airline, announced Thursday it will slash its Dublin flights by 19 percent this summer and cut 150 jobs in protest at airport fees and an Irish government passenger tax.

O'Leary told a Dublin press conference his airline would boost Irish traffic this year if the airport and government would cut charges and taxes, but instead expected to carry 3 million fewer Irish passengers in 2010.

Europe's most profitable airline has railed for years against the Dublin Airport Authority and its slow development of a new terminal at the capital's overcrowded lone airport. Ryanair, the airport's major tenant, has insisted it needs only Spartan facilities and blames the project for a government-approved 40 percent rise in charges.

Ryanair said its flights in and out of Dublin would fall 19 percent to below 500 per week starting in April. The airline, headquartered in Dublin, estimated this cutback would mean 2,000 lost jobs in airline support services but declined to provide details.

On top of that, Ireland's cash-strapped government last year imposed a new euro10 ($14) fee per air passenger that O'Leary has branded a "tourist tax" designed to deter people from visiting Ireland.

The government and Dublin Airport Authority did not respond to O'Leary's latest criticisms.

Ryanair is increasingly redeploying its fleet of Boeing 787-400s away from higher-charge Ireland and Britain in favor of lower-charge regional airports in continental Europe. New Ryanair bases opening this year include Faro in Portugal, Malaga in Spain, and Bari and Brindisi in Italy.

But analysts agree that such moves chiefly represent Ryanair's efforts to put more aircraft into more attractive, developing markets in favor of the already crowded, highly competitive British-Irish arena, with lower fees a bonus.

Reflecting that opportunism, Ryanair announced Thursday that, despite its claim of high fees driving airline business out of Dublin, it would introduce 37 new flights per week this summer from Dublin to the most sought-after Mediterranean and Atlantic sun spots.

This move follows the collapse two months ago of Budget Travel, Ireland's largest package-holiday operator, which specialized in charter flights out of Ireland. Ryanair said it would more than double its Dublin flights to Barcelona, Spain, and open two new routes to the Canary Islands.

Ryanair said these new flights were included in the airline's claim of an overall cut of 19 percent of flights at Dublin in the April-September period.

Ryanair shares rose 1.5 percent to euro3.44 ($4.85) amid a flat market on the Irish Stock Exchange.