MIAMI – In response to rising COVID-19 case counts in Ireland, Ryanair (FR) has grounded all flights at Cork Airport (ORK) for a period of four weeks between November and December 2020.

Cork, which is the second largest airport in the Republic of Ireland, relies on the high volume provided by low cost carriers like FR. It is also a major hub for Irish flag carrier, Aer Lingus (EI)–who have also cut flights on the ORK to London-Heathrow (LHR) route.

“The Irish aviation ecosystem is already extremely weakened and fragile and each blow delivers further incremental damage”, said ORK Managing Director Niall McCarthy in a statement issued after the announcement.

The main terminal at ORK. PHOTO: Cork Airport

A Bleak Picture

In November 2019, ORK served approximately 172,000 passengers. For November 2020, ORK is expecting only 9,000 passengers–a year-over-year decrease of 95%. These demand forecasts, called “shockingly low” by FR CEO Eddie Wilson, played a major part in the airline’s decision to ground flights.

Speaking before the Oireachtas Transport Committee on Wednesday, Wilson stated the importance of passenger volume to the operation. It not possible to “run an airline without demand”, he said.

Although the short-term future of ORK seems dim, Managing Director Niall McCarthy remains positive. For the period between November 15th and December 5th, ORK is expecting between 14 and 18 flights per week served by KLM and EI. The airport will also play a part in vital government operations such as airborne search and rescue teams and medivac flights.

McCarthy urged the Irish government to explore options in pre-flight COVID-19 testing. Similar measures have so far proven successful in Germany, and are currently being implemented in other EU nations.

“A low cost, scalable, results pre-departure testing regime needs to form the backbone of the return of confidence in safe air travel. The mechanisms and protocols for this are yet to be agreed in Ireland and this is beyond urgent now.”, said McCarthy.

Ryanair Boeing 737-800. PHOTO: Marco Macca/Airways

Affected Passengers

Despite low demand, many passengers held tickets to these newly cancelled flights and are unsure of their next steps.

Ryanair CEO Eddie Wilson has promised full refunds for all affected passengers. “Anyone who is entitled to a cash refund can get a cash refund and it can be done directly on our website.”, he said.

Passengers who booked through a travel agent are also entitled to a refund, but the reimbursement may take some time. FR is currently working through other outstanding refunds in similar cases, and claims the holdup is due to complexities with individual cases. Despite this, the Dublin-based carrier is certain it will process each and every refund case.

Featured Image: Ryanair Boeing 737-800. PHOTO: Marco Macca/Airways