Ryanair operates ‘ghost flights’ with no passengers to keep planes serviceable

Aircraft are taking off, circling the airport, and landing

Helen Coffey
Tuesday 31 March 2020 12:26 BST
Government announces £75m plan to bring British tourists home

Despite running just a tiny number of rescue flights during the coronavirus lockdown, Ryanair still appears to be flying most of its fleet on a regular basis.

Europe’s biggest budget airline is operating frequent “ghost flights” – empty planes with no passengers – where aircraft take off, circle the airport, and land again.

For most of its fleet of 451 Boeing 737s, this appears to be happening around once every four days.

The data was collected by Simply Flying, which looked at 47 (just over 10 per cent) of Ryanair’s planes chosen at random.

Flight tracking data showed that all bar one of the jets had been flown in recent days: 35 had made loops of the airport, while the remaining 11 aircraft had operated a service at least once every four days.

The data sample suggests most of the carrier’s fleet will be operating on a similar basis.

The reason for operating empty flights that don’t go anywhere is to maintain aircrafts’ operational availability.

Planes that have been grounded for a significant period have to be checked over before they are cleared to fly again, a process that keeps them from flying for even longer and costs the airline money.

A Ryanair spokesperson told Simply Flying: “In order to ensure our aircraft are serviceable for both passenger repatriation flights and essential flights for the transportation of urgent medical supplies, some of our crew and aircraft must remain available and serviceable in line with Boeing requirements and EASA regulations.”

However, the decision to keep flying planes on a regular basis without passengers will adversely affect the airline’s carbon footprint.

Ryanair’s latest advertising campaign claimed that it is Europe’s “lowest emissions airline“.

However, the campaign was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which branded the statements “misleading”.

It follows easyJet’s announcement that it has stopped all commercial flights and grounded all its 344 Airbus aircraft across Europe due to the “unprecedented travel restrictions imposed by governments in response to the coronavirus pandemic.” It may continue to operate some repatriation flights at government request.

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