The chief executive of the Irish low-cost airline has made no secret in recent days that Ryanair would close bases in Europe, and he was also very aware that Brussels Airport could be targeted because O’Leary no longer has any growth in Belgium . his business. “Zaventem is one of the airports where we question our presence,” it read.
On Wednesday, O’Leary will add words to action: the Irish low-cost carrier is phasing out its permanent presence in Zaventem, it was announced this morning at a special cooperation committee. In concrete terms, Ryanair is temporarily removing the two aircraft stationed in Zaventem. The flights that were carried out with these aircraft will be cancelled. The number of flights from Zaventem therefore drops from 19 to 12. The plane would return in March. Brussels Airport would thus become a seasonal base, believes the Christian trade union ACV Puls, where planes are only stationed in the summer.
“We now have to look for solutions for the 80 employees in Brussels,” says Hans Elsen from ACV Puls. “For the 71 employees from abroad, we need to see if there are opportunities for them to be sent back and find work there. For the 9 Belgian employees, it is being investigated whether they can work in Charleroi. That airport will be left untouched.”
This afternoon, O’Leary provided more information at a press conference. “We are very disappointed to announce the closure of these two bases,” he said. “But we have no alternative after the price increases in Zaventem and the Belgian government’s absurd and idiotic decision to introduce new taxes. We continue to grow in other airports that understand that lower prices are necessary to get over the corona crisis, but we have to close in Zaventem.”
O’Leary is therefore asking the government to withdraw the air tax again, but also to reduce costs in Zaventem. “Next summer will be extremely challenging due to high oil prices. If airports then raise their prices and governments raise taxes, it’s simply not sustainable.”
O’Leary cannot guarantee that regular flights will return in March. “That will only happen if Zaventem reduces costs and the Belgian government reverses the flight tax.”
In the interviews, the Irishman indicated that he still saw little growth in our country, where his main base (with 15 aircraft) is located in Charleroi. Ryanair is one of the few airlines flying more flights than before the pandemic and carrying more passengers than ever in recent months. But the thunderclouds over the economy also have O’Leary fearing a difficult winter – “You’d be crazy not to worry about the looming recession,” he said recently. Therefore, Ryanair is reviewing its presence at some airports for this winter. A few days ago, a departure from Athens was also announced.
Zaventem, where only two Ryanair planes are now based, has never been O’Leary’s preferred base because airport charges are around eight times higher than at regionally supported Charleroi. Still, the decision to build the base is still striking. Less than a year ago, O’Leary himself went to Brussels with the message that after corona he mainly saw expansion opportunities in Zaventem, because Charleroi is already saturated. But then “airport costs and taxes will have to be cut to revive tourism,” he added.
The opposite has happened. Zaventem is currently reviewing airport charges, and the federal government introduced an air tax of 2 to 10 euros in April, depending on the destination. Certainly for a low-cost airline like Ryanair, with price-sensitive customers, these extra taxes weigh you down.
Another factor is the continued social unrest at the company’s Belgian bases. The Belgian pilots and cabin crew stationed in our country have already stopped working several times this year to protest against Ryanair’s working methods and working conditions. The labor prosecutor in Charleroi has already collected dozens of complaints against the company, and recently 48 pilots took the airline to court because they want to cancel a 20 percent pay cut they had taken during the corona.
Ryanair’s decision is bad news for Brussels Airport, which sees a major player at the airport wind down its operations. But this does not mean that no more Ryanair flights depart from Zaventem. Only 5 of the 15 rotations (outbound and return flights) passing through Zaventem are carried out by staff stationed in Belgium, an airport spokesman said. The other ten depart from foreign bases and continue to fly (for now) at the national airport.