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2 April, 2020 - 11:55 By Tony Quested

Ryanair and easyJet respond to virus turbulence

Luton-based carrier easyJet has grounded its entire fleet of aircraft due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ryanair, which underpins Stansted Airport’s European flight network had grounded 90 per cent of its flights but was reviewing the position today (April 2).

Both airlines have been undertaking rescue flights although easyJet says it has flown its last such mission; Ryanair has continued to operate a number of normal services into and out of Ireland, including to Stansted.

easyJet has placed all cabin crew on a two-month furlough, propped up by government assurances via the job retention scheme to meet 80 per cent of pay for a two-month period. It says the action followed talks with the union Unite.

Throughout last week easyJet helped repatriate customers having operated more than 650 rescue flights to date returning home more than 45,000 customers.

It told the UK’s stock exchange: “At this stage there can be no certainty of the date for restarting commercial flights. We will continuously evaluate the situation based on regulations and demand, and will update the market when we have a view.”

Global lockdowns and restrictions on movement had crippled scheduled services and the company has seen its stock nosedive nearly 60 per cent so far in 2020. Its statement said the decision to halt flights removed significant cost and said easyJet maintained a strong balance sheet.

Chief executive, Johan Lundgren, said: “I am extremely proud of the way in which people across easyJet have given their absolute best at such a challenging time, including so many crew who have volunteered to operate rescue flights to bring our customers home.

“We are working tirelessly to ensure that easyJet continues to be well positioned to overcome the challenges of coronavirus.”

Ryanair is operating a limited Irish schedule while the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The company is also working to provide repatriation and rescue flights for a number of EU governments and has offered its aircraft for emergency medical flights, including to and from China.

Ryanair will only operate daily or weekly flights between Dublin and the UK to London Stansted, London Gatwick, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, as well as Cork to London Stansted.

The company also said it would only operate daily or weekly flights from Dublin to Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin, Lisbon and Cologne.

“As most EU countries have imposed flight bans or other restrictions, over 90 per cent of Ryanair’s aircraft will be grounded for the coming weeks,” a statement from Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said.

“We will comply with these restrictions at all times. We are all working with EU governments to try to keep some minimum flight links open for emergency reasons, even though the passenger loads on these flights will be very low.”

Ryanair added that aircraft on the routes it would operate would be disinfected daily and said social distancing would be optimised on-board.

Police drone shows new Stansted landscape

Stansted Airport has released unique drone footage showing how it is managing the challenge of finding parking spaces for almost 100 aircraft which have been grounded following the Covid-19 pandemic.

The reduced operation at what is usually the UK’s fourth busiest airport meant an Essex Police drone, based at Stansted, was able to safely launch and capture the bird’s-eye view of the airfield at a time which would normally be the peak of the flying day. 

The footage shows almost all of the airport’s passenger stands occupied by aircraft which would usually be carrying passengers to around 200 destinations across Europe and beyond.

It also shows aircraft parked on the north side of the airfield, which usually houses London Stansted’s busy private and charter aviation operation.

Despite most airlines suspending almost all passenger operations, there are still some flights operating in and out of London Stansted, with a handful of passenger flights a day and the airport’s cargo operations continuing to bring vital supplies into the UK.

Airlines are also using the opportunity to carry out essential maintenance on their aircraft and are expected to continue some limited flying to keep their aircraft and crews current so operations can return to normal as quickly as possible once restrictions are lifted.

Stansted’s operations director, Nick Millar, said: “This is a challenging time for the whole country and the aviation sector is no different. We have been working hard with our airlines to find space for them to park their planes which would otherwise be flying around the world, given the majority of them have taken the decision to suspend most of their operations for the time being.

“Usually at this time of year we’d see more than 500 flights a day, but this unprecedented situation means we are faced with a different challenge of ensuring there is space for these aircraft on the ground and that airlines can continue to maintain them. 

“This is alongside the cargo operation which continues to bring in essential items like food and pharmaceuticals from around the globe.

“The whole team at the airport have been working hard to adjust our operations to reflect the significant change in demand, while ensuring that London Stansted is ready to return to normal as quickly as possible and play its part in supporting the UK’s recovery once restrictions are lifted.”

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