Ryanair moots grounding entire fleet as European travel restrictions bite

Ryanair has said it expects to ground the “majority” of its aircraft fleet across Europe over the next seven-to-ten days.

Over the past week, the spread of the Covid-19 virus and associated government travel restrictions, many of which have been imposed without notice, have had a significant and negative impact on the schedules the low-cost carrier.

Malta, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Greece, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Poland, Norway and Cyprus are among those destinations to have imposed flight bans of varying degrees.

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 carrier said.

Ryanair Group chief executive, Michael O’Leary, said: “At the Ryanair Group Airlines, 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 to be imposed by national governments, in many cases with minimal or zero notice.

“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.”

Over the weekend, Poland and Norway banned all international flights, while in other countries (without travel bans) there has been severe reduction of air traffic control and essential airport services.

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For April and May, Ryanair now expects to reduce its seat capacity by up to 80 per cent, and a full grounding of the fleet cannot be ruled out.

Ryanair is taking immediate action to reduce operating expenses, and improve cash flows.

This will involve grounding surplus aircraft, deferring all capex and share buybacks, 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.

O’Leary added: “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.”

Ryanair Group said it has “strong liquidity”, with strong cash and cash equivalents of over €4 billion as at March 12th.

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