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Airlines facing total shutdown as coronavirus woes deepen

Ryanair jets 'may be grounded within days'


Air planes of German carrier Lufthansa are parked at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Air planes of German carrier Lufthansa are parked at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach


Air planes of German carrier Lufthansa are parked at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Europe's airlines are heading for an effective shutdown, with just skeleton services expected across the region and Ryanair warning its entire fleet is likely to be grounded within 10 days.

The seismic changes within the sector due to the coronavirus pandemic are likely to have a permanent structural effect on the industry and the way people travel.

IAG chief executive Willie Walsh, who was due to retire at the end of this month, has postponed his departure.

The airline group, which owns Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia and Vueling, is slashing its capacity by at least 75pc during April and May.

Virgin Atlantic has asked its staff to take eight weeks of unpaid leave between now and June as it plans to cut about 80pc of flights. German holiday firm TUI has cancelled most of its operations, while Easyjet also said it could have to ground its entire fleet.

The dramatic reduction in global travel demand is already increasing financial pressure on airlines, which ratings agency Fitch expects will result in increased lease deferrals or restructurings, airline bankruptcies, and ultimately, aircraft repossessions. While lessors have historically benefited from the ability to move aircraft from regions or countries with weak demand to others with stronger demand, the global scale of the current stress significantly impairs this traditional risk mitigation strategy, it said.

Australia's Centre for Aviation (CAPA), a well-regarded research consultancy, claimed that most airlines would be bankrupt by the end of May.

"As the impacts of the coronavirus and multiple government travel reactions sweep through our world, many airlines have probably already been driven into technical bankruptcy, or are at least substantially in breach of debt covenants," it claimed.

"Demand is drying up in ways that are completely unprecedented. Normality is not yet on the horizon."

Eurocontrol, the Brussels-based agency that manages airspace across Europe, said yesterday that there were just 20,040 flights on Sunday in the airspace it oversees. That was almost 24pc, or 6,263, fewer than on an equivalent Sunday in 2019.

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary said that the carrier group is doing "everything we can to meet the challenge posed by the Covid-19 outbreak", in light of "unprecedented" travel restrictions that have been imposed often without notice.

"We are communicating with all affected passengers by email and SMS, and we are organising rescue flights to repatriate customers, even in those countries where travel bans have been imposed," he added.

Ryanair has a fleet of more than 450 aircraft. For April and May, it expects to reduce its seat capacity by up to 80pc and it warned that a full grounding of the fleet "cannot be ruled out".

Mr O'Leary said that Ryanair is "a resilient carrier group" with a very strong balance sheet and substantial cash liquidity. It has about €4bn in cash and cash equivalents.

"We can, and will, with appropriate and timely action, survive through a prolonged period of reduced or even zero flight schedules," said Mr O'Leary.

"Ryanair is taking immediate action to reduce operating expenses and improve cash flows," the airline added.

"This will involve grounding surplus aircraft, deferring all capex and share buybacks, freezing recruitment and discretionary spending, and implementing a series of voluntary leave options, temporarily suspending employment contracts, and significant reductions to working hours and payments."

Airline shares were eviscerated when markets opened yesterday, wiping billions of euro off their market capitalisations.

Ryanair's were 18pc lower by lunchtime, while shares in IAG were down 28pc. Easyjet had declined 19pc.

Lufthansa was 11pc lower and Air France-KLM had fallen 17pc. In the US, airline stocks also plunged.

Irish Independent

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