Ryanair slashes UK flight schedule

Ryanair is reducing its fleet at Stansted Airport from 40 planes to 24.
Budget airline Ryanair announced plans Tuesday to slash its winter flights schedule from its main UK hub, blaming a collapse in the British tourism industry, rising airport costs and "insane" aviation taxes.

The Irish carrier currently operates 40 aircraft out of Stansted Airport, near London, but it plans to cut capacity by 40 percent to 24 aircraft by October 2009. That will mean a 30 percent drop in the number of weekly flights and a loss of 2.5 million passengers between October and March 2010, Ryanair said in a statement. Last month Ryanair reported a €169 million ($240 million) loss in the last year — compared with a profit of €390 million the previous year — after being hit with higher fuel costs and a writedown in its investment in rival carrier Aer Lingus. Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary said the move was motivated by the refusal of BAA, which manages Stansted, to cut passenger fees despite falling traffic, including a six percent drop during June. O’Leary also criticized government plans to raise Air Passenger Duty levied on travelers by £1 ($1.6) to £11 ($18) on short-haul flights, calling the tax “insane and damaging.” “Sadly UK traffic and tourism continues to collapse while Ryanair continues to grow traffic rapidly in those countries which welcome tourists instead of taxing them,” O’Leary said.

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“Ryanair’s 40 percent capacity cutback at London Stansted shows just how much Gordon Brown’s £10 tourist tax and the BAA Monopoly’s high airport charges are damaging London and UK tourism and the British economy generally.” Ryanair said it planned to switch capacity to countries which had scrapped tourism taxes and passenger fees, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece and Spain. The UK government argues that Air Passenger Duty forms part of its strategy to reduce the environmental impact of aviation amid wider efforts to cut the country’s carbon emissions. Financial minister Alistair Darling announced reforms to the existing system last November, introducing four bands ranging from £11 for destinations within 2,000 miles (3,218 kms) of London to £55 for flights of more than 6,000 miles (9,654 kms). Darling told lawmakers he believed the new system would be “effective in reducing emissions from aviation.”