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Ryanair jettisons Brussels-based activities

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has told a special meeting of the low-cost carrier’s works council that the airline will close down all its Brussels-based operations for the winter season pledging only to return if the aviation tax is dropped.  Flights from abroad will still service the capital. It’s unclear whether activities will resume next year.  Ryanair intends to maintain Charleroi Airport as its hub.

Ryanair had planned to base two aircraft at Brussels Airport during the winter season carrying out some ten flights a day.  These flights are now being axed for the next six months.  Ryanair aircraft based abroad will continue to offer services to the airport in Flanders.  No changes were announced for Charleroi where Ryanair operates around 15 aircraft.

The winter season starts on 29 October.  The decision means hundreds of flights will be cancelled. Seventeen Ryanair pilots and around 60 cabin staff are based at Brussels Airport.  They are not being made redundant. The carrier will examine whether they can move to Charleroi or elsewhere.

CEO O’Leary defended the company’s decision by pointing to higher costs at Zaventem and the impact of the aviation tax introduced by the Belgian government.  The CEO spoke of a crazy and discriminatory tax.

VRT aviation expert Riadh Bahri isn’t surprised by the news.  He points to the fact that Mr O’Leary has threatened to quit Brussels on five previous occasions.  It’s unclear whether operations will resume in March. Every six months the company evaluates where it intends to reduce and increase services.

Ryanair is known to be unhappy with the aviation tax and the automatic indexation of many Belgian wages.  Brussels Airport is also said to be eight times costlier than Charleroi.

Unions speak of blackmail model.  The Christian union’s Hans Elsen says Ryanair is showing its resistance to the aviation tax that is at odds with the company’s business model.  The tax puts 10 euros on the ticket of flights under 500km of which Ryanair operates none and 2 or 4 euros on longer flights according to Elsen.

“The company is creating uncertainty for 75 families.  Most live around Brussels and a move to Charleroi could be feasible but moves further afield will have greater impacts on staff.  Ryanair is eager to make a political statement partly at the cost of employees”.

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