Michael O’Leary wields Ryanair axe but impact on Edinburgh Airport ‘exaggerated’

RYANAIR boss Michael O’Leary has axed five summer routes and threatened to halve his airline’s winter service from Edinburgh if his dispute with airport operator BAA is not settled by October.

But airport bosses have accused Mr O’Leary of exaggerating the scale of his cutbacks – including the 300 jobs he claims will go as a result of yesterday’s announcement.

The budget carrier said negotiations with BAA over its contract for routes out of Edinburgh – due for renewal in October – had “broken down” and as a result, five routes would be cut, putting jobs at risk and cutting Edinburgh’s Ryanair passenger numbers by 15 per cent.

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No Ryanair jobs will be lost in the service cuts, with the figure touted by Mr O’Leary coming from his own calculations that BAA and ground handling firm Servisair will be forced to make redundancies as result of the lost Ryanair passengers. However, both companies said they have no plans to axe jobs as a result of Ryanair’s retrenchment.

Mr O’Leary said the rest of the posts will be lost from hotels and restaurants in Edinburgh, which he claims would lose business due to the lower number of passengers.

A spokesman for BAA pointed out that all but one of the five destinations Ryanair says it will pull back from are not currently operating from Edinburgh Airport. Winter flights to Tallin were cut last November as Ryanair grounded 80 aircraft over the off-peak period, while Malmo, Murcia and Ibiza have not yet started running – they were announced in January by Mr O’Leary as part of new routes planned for Edinburgh during the summer season.

Jim O’Sullivan, managing director of Edinburgh Airport added: “We have tried extremely hard to negotiate with Ryanair but, sadly, on many issues have not been able to find common ground. For example, we cannot accept their wish to not pay the agreed air traffic control costs that all other airlines pay.”

It is also understood that airport bosses were informed “months ago” that the Berlin route would close – for reasons believed to be connected to the refurbishment and subsequent relocation of the main airport in the German capital, rather than the spat with BAA.

A Ryanair spokesman said: “All of these routes have been on sale as part of our summer schedule from Edinburgh. It is not smoke and mirrors.

“As for Berlin, we… have temporarily moved to an adjacent airport while runway upgrades are being carried out, but that is not the reason for our decision to cut that route.”

Flying into Edinburgh for an official announcement at the city’s Hilton Grosvenor Hotel yesterday morning, Mr O’Leary delivered his message – including the news that Ryanair flights from the airport would be cut from 140 to 110 a week – in characteristically direct style.

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“Sadly, we are here on a bad news day for Edinburgh,” he said. “The sole reason for these cuts is the breakdown of our negotiations with Edinburgh Airport.

“We will continue to talk [to them] and we could make further cuts to our winter schedule of another 50 per cent of our existing traffic, unless BAA realises their costs are too high.”

He added: “But you have a fairly prattish management out there who are not the brightest sandwiches in the picnic basket and who say, ‘To hell with Scottish consumers’.”