Budget carrier Ryanair today announced it was slashing the number of flights it will operate from Stansted airport this winter.
The no-frills Irish airline is reducing the number of weekly flights at the Essex airport by 30 per cent between October 2009 and March 2010.
This amounts to a 40 per cent reduction in capacity as Ryanair will cut the number of aircraft at Stansted from 40 this summer to 24 in winter 2009/10.
Ryanair blamed the cutback on the fact that Stansted is one of its two most expensive bases (Dublin is the other) and that airport operator BAA had rejected the airline's calls for "deep cuts in these high passenger fees this winter".
Ryanair, which now expects to carry 2.5 million fewer passengers at Stansted this winter, also pointed to the Government increase in the Air Passenger Duty (APD) airport departure tax from November this year.
The airline said that in recent months the Belgian, Dutch, Greek and Spanish governments had all scrapped tourist taxes and/or reduced airport charges to zero to stimulate tourism.
It said it would now switch the 16 aircraft it was withdrawing from Stansted to other European bases.
Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary said: "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.
"Ryanair's 40 per cent 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."
He added that other governments' tax-and-charges cutbacks underlined "the urgent need to break up the high-cost BAA airport monopoly (as recommended by the Competition Commission) and to scrap Gordon Brown's insane and damaging £10 tourist tax which has caused UK traffic to collapse".
Leaders of the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) met Government ministers today to press for the abolition of the APD, warning the tax could "cripple" the industry.
General secretary Jim McAuslan said: "This tax is going to increase dramatically in the next couple of years and will undoubtedly put flying out of the reach of many families and could cripple the industry.
"We are urging ministers to scrap the increases. We believe there is a very strong case for lifting it altogether."
Gary Pearce of the GMB union said: "Because of the last round of redundancies, the remaining staff, many of whom are GMB members who work for the handling agent under contract to provide airport service to Ryanair, are currently working up to 35 per cent more on overtime.
"We will be arguing to have the existing staff working at an acceptable level before there are any calls for redundancies which GMB will fight because we know that the work will pick up again next March."
Stansted managing director Stewart Wingate said: "Today's announcement means it is business as usual here at Stansted.
"Last winter Ryanair reduced its aircraft fleet here to 28. This year it will be 24. It is common practice for it to reduce frequency to various destinations during the winter season as it has done in previous years. We have factored this potential outcome into our latest passenger forecasts.
"However, it should be noted that Ryanair recently announced it will launch a new service to Oslo from Stansted this October."
He went on: "Ryanair is one of the most profitable airlines in the world and the success of its base here, where it has invested millions in new facilities, has helped it become as successful as it is today.
"Stansted has been good for Ryanair and in turn, Ryanair has been good for Stansted, flying nearly five million passengers to destinations across Europe in 2008. We look forward to continuing this successful relationship for many years to come."