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Ryanair cuts down on winter flights

Budget airline Ryanair announced substantial cutbacks today in its number of flights from Stansted airport next winter.

The Irish no-frills carrier said it would making a 14-per-cent reduction in the number of weekly flights for winter 2008/09 at the Essex airport.

The number of weekly flights will be cut from more than 1,850 to just under 1,600 this winter and the airline reckons it will carry around 900,000 fewer passengers than last winter.

Ryanair has 36 planes based at Stansted but this will be reduced to 28.

The airline blamed the capacity cutback, which follows its announcement earlier this week of fewer flights this winter from Dublin, on a number of reasons.

These include the huge hike in oil prices, the "expense" of using Stansted and the "total failure of the inadequate Civil Aviation Authority regulatory regime" to control costs for airlines at Stansted.

Ryan Air said it would lose less money this winter by sitting eight aircraft on the ground rather than flying them "at an expensive airport like Stansted".

The Irish low-cost carrier said a request to Stansted operator BAA to operate the eight aircraft in return for a substantial discount on airport charges had been refused.

Ryan Air chief executive Michael O'Leary said today: "These winter schedule cutbacks, which are significantly greater than those of last winter, show just how damaging the BAA airport monopoly has become to consumers and the best interests of London, UK tourism and the economy generally."

He added that the cutbacks reaffirmed the "abject failure" of the Civil Aviation Authority regulatory team which was running "a laughable regime".

Mr O'Leary predicted that the cutbacks would mean around 900 job losses at Stansted, including around 150 Ryanair staff.

He said that no routes would be axed at Stansted this winter, but that frequency on nearly all routes would be less.

Ryanair has always maintained that it will never introduce fuel surcharges.

Asked about this today, Mr O'Leary said that fuel charges were introduced by big airlines who passed their costs onto their passengers, adding: "That's something we don't do."

He said there was a crisis in the aviation industry around every four to five years and that this one just happened to be about oil.

He said Britons were reluctant to give up their holidays, but did want to travel cheaply during a recession.

He predicted that some smaller low-fare carriers could "go bust this winter" and said that, if Ryanair took over rival Irish carrier, Aer Lingus, it would run Aer Lingus as a separate brand with separate management.

Later, Ryanair said it was closing operations at seven of its European bases from November 4 to December 19 this year.

The bases are Basel, Budapest, Palma in Majorca, Krakow and Rzeszow in Poland, Salzburg and Valencia.

The airline blamed high airport charges and high oil prices for the decision.

A spokesman for Stansted operator BAA said: "Let's be clear. The aviation industry like many others is coping with the challenges of a global economic downturn. Everyone is feeling the pinch.

"The dynamic nature of the budget airline industry means that routes and flight schedules change all the time - and at times like this, more so.

"Many airlines, including Ryanair, always reduce services in the winter season. This year will be no exception - even British Airways is cutting back. Surely, this is a time for our industry to pull together, not spat with each other by press release."