Taoiseach Micheál Martin faces a potential crisis in his home constituency after Aer Lingus confirmed its base in Cork and another in Shannon is under threat.
A reduction or closure of Aer Lingus operations at Cork and Shannon will have devastating economic consequences for the south and midwest regions, politicians and business leaders warned last night.
It emerged yesterday that staff at the airline had been briefed via video that the company's dire financial situation could see it seek compulsory redundancies as well as putting the future of the two non-Dublin bases at risk.
The airline had already said it was seeking 500 redundancies.
But yesterday CEO Sean Doyle outlined a potentially dramatic escalation of its cost- cutting plans in the internal staff video. Job losses would be implemented on a voluntary basis if possible, but on a compulsory basis if necessary, he said.
"We have no line of sight on any meaningful resumption of operations out of either Cork or Shannon Airports. As such we are reviewing the scale of our flying programme from these airports and the ongoing viability of our regional bases there," he said.
Earlier, on a call with reporters Willie Walsh, who heads up IAG, the international group that owns Aer Lingus, said the situation was the worst he had witnessed in his career.
Losses at Aer Lingus were running at almost double what it suffered when international travel was disrupted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, he said.
Aer Lingus recorded an operating loss of €98m in the three months to the end of June, its biggest ever quarterly loss, when it operated at less than 5pc of capacity compared with 2019. Mr Walsh said the Irish Government's travel restrictions - including the requirement for people entering the country from most places to quarantine - was the toughest in Europe and was hitting Irish airlines, including Aer Lingus harder than their European peers.
A targeted regime including testing, tracking and tracing of travellers, and limited quarantine would better balance public health concerns and the economic situation, he said.
Aer Lingus would continue to exist and to be supported by IAG, he said, but it would become a smaller airline.
Even the step of easing Ireland's travel restrictions now would not prevent redundancies already in train, he said. Meanwhile Cork, Limerick and Clare Chambers of Commerce are seeking an urgent meeting with the Government over the Aer Lingus warning about the viability of the carrier's regional operations.
Opposition politicians demanded an immediate statement from the Taoiseach about the future of Aer Lingus's regional hubs - and what State aid might be available to avert route losses and job cuts.
Mr Martin's own constituency includes Cork Airport.
Passenger numbers at Cork and Shannon are down by about 95pc due to Covid-19.
Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said the economic consequences of regional airports losing vital connectivity would be potentially catastrophic.
"The 'Ireland 2040' plan talks a lot about balanced regional development," Mr Ó Laoghaire said. "How can we have balanced regional development if Cork doesn't have a base for the national carrier? It simply cannot be allowed to happen."
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