Europe's airlines prepare to ground fleets as coronavirus cripples aviation industry

Deserted check-in desks at Heathrow's Terminal Five after flight schedules were slashed by IAG. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA
Ryan McAleer

EUROPE'S biggest airlines will ground most of their fleets in the coming months after bookings collapsed due to the coronavirus.

Ryanair, EasyJet, Aer Lingus and British Airways are among the airlines preparing to reduce capacity by between 75 and 80 per cent during April and May.

It comes as some European airline bosses labelled the crisis as the worst in the history of the aviation industry.

Ryanair said it expects the proliferation of flight bans introduced by European nations to ground the majority of its aircraft fleet over the next seven to ten days.

It said seat capacity would be cut by up to 80 per cent in April and May, with a full grounding of its fleet not being ruled out.

Aer Lingus and British Airways owner IAG said it will reduce its capacity by 75 per cent over the next two months, while EasyJet said it had undertaken "further significant cancellations", which could result in the majority of its fleet being grounded.

In response, IAG's shares fell by around a quarter, EasyJet's by 21 per cent and Ryanair's by 18 per cent. Tui, which suspended all package holidays, dropped by a third.

Rolls-Royce, which builds aeroplane engines, also lost around a fifth of its value.

Virgin Atlantic has asked the UK Government for £5-7.5bn worth of emergency credit facilities “to bolster confidence in the industry”, and to prevent credit card processors from withholding customer payments.

The airline said it will ground up to 75 per cent of its fleet by March 26 and 85 per cent in April.

It also will ask staff to take eight weeks unpaid leave in the next three months, with the cost spread over six months' salary “to drastically reduce costs without job losses”.

Ryanair said on Monday that it will waive its fee for changing flights. It said customers who change their booking to a date in the future, will only pay for the difference in fare. But it advised people against booking a date in April.

Belfast International Airport said yesterday that it will remain open, but advised customers to check with airlines for updates on flights.

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