EasyJet is scrapping 20 per cent of its flights from London's Luton Airport and pulling out of East Midlands Airport in Derbyshire altogether.
The low-cost carrier said aircraft from both hubs would be moved to "more profitable" European bases. About 40 easyJet pilots and cabin crew based at Belfast, Bristol, Stansted and Newcastle could lose their jobs.
The decision to downsize at Luton – which will remain easyJet's headquarters – follows the failure of talks with the airport's Spanish owner, Abertis, over landing fees which have risen by 25 per cent in three years.
EasyJet said Abertis's "failure to recognise the commercial realities of the recession" had prompted its decision to withdraw 240 flights per week from Luton by the end of the year.
The closure of its East Midlands operation, which offers 120 flights a week and carries 700,000 passengers a year, was blamed on "stagnation in traffic" at the airport serving Derby, Leicester, Nottingham and surrounding areas. Flights to and from East Midlands up to the end of 2009 were "wholly unaffected", said easyJet, which has 120 staff and three aircraft based there.
Andy Harrison, the chief executive, added: "We are one of only a few airlines expecting to make a profit this year. A critical part of our success has been optimising the allocation of our aircraft across our 19 European bases. This means responding to airports with uncompetitive costs, as well as moving swiftly to seize opportunities as competitors retreat."
As the recession batters the aviation industry, easyJet is one of few carriers still in the black. This week saw the year's first major European airline bankruptcy, when SkyEurope of Slovakia finally folded after months of speculation.
However, easyJet is predicting it will make a profit of between £25m and £30m this year. Last month, it reported an increase in both passenger numbers and load factors compared with August 2008.
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