Ryanair aircraft parked, Photo: Ryanair.

MIAMI — The world’s most prolific budget airline, Ryanair, has announced that it will cancel 18,000 flights, which will affect 400,000 passengers amid the ongoing crew holiday/leave woes.

Ryanair has since offered captains one-off payments of €12,000 and €6,000 to first officers to delay their annual leaves until later on next year. This has been met with opposition by pilot representatives as they seek to lobby better working conditions and better work contracts.

(Credits: Fabrizio Berni)

The chaotic situation will now last until March 2018, a period in which over 34 routes will be axed from the airline’s point-to-point network, including routes from London-Stansted to Edinburgh and Glasgow; from Gatwick to Belfast; Glasgow to Las Palmas; and Newcastle to Faro.

According to Ryanair, 25 Boeing 737s will be removed from the airline’s fleet starting in November, a decision that will prevent further flight cancellations.

Reportedly, affected passengers will be given vouchers for the troubles caused by the airline. However, the value of these is expected to be within €40-80, which can be used in 2018 after the airline resumes normal operations.

Losses? No more Alitalia

The expected losses the airline will incur during this period of cancellations is expected to be around €50 million, forcing Ryanair to pull out of its plans to bid for troubled Alitalia.

“In order to focus on repairing this rostering problem this winter, Ryanair will eliminate all management distractions, starting with its interest in Alitalia,” said the airline in a statement.

Ryanair’s CEO stated that he was finalizing the details of a deal to buy the Italian flag carrier, which was put for sale earlier this year after suffering never-ending losses and numerous union woes.

If the Alitalia deal had gone to fruition, it would have represented Ryanair’s second-biggest purchase since its early days. In 2003, the airline bought Buzz from KLM for €29.3 million, eliminating one rival from the eccentric European LCC market.

Apologetic O’Leary?

The airline’s controversial CEO released a statement in which he apologizes for the troubles caused by the current situation. “We sincerely apologize to those customers who have been affected by last week’s flight cancellations,” he said.

“From today, there will be no more rostering related flight cancellations this winter or in summer 2018”

But last week, O’Leary attacked its own pilots claiming that they cannot be as overworked as they claim to be. “If they are fatigued, it is definitely not because of flying,” said the CEO during a press conference.

“I would challenge any pilot to explain how this is a difficult job or how it is they are overworked, or how anybody who by law can’t fly more than 18 hours a week could possibly be suffering from fatigue,” he said.

Several sources say that Ryanair has lost 700 pilots in the last year—most of them swapping to the more stable and friendly Norwegian—but O’Leary revealed that the budget airline is looking to recruit 120 new pilots within the next couple of years.

However, to counteract the current massive outflux of pilots and the ongoing cancellation woes, O’Leary says the airline will reduce its growth during the upcoming winter season, which will “create lots of spare aircraft and crews, which will allow us to manage the exceptional volumes of annual leave we committed to delivering in the nine months to December 2017.”

Massive Fleet on Hold?

As of today, the budget airline operates a fleet of 400 Boeing 737-800, averaging at 6.8 years of age.

Current order backlogs stand at 115 additional Boeing 737-800s and 110 Boeing 737 MAX 200s, with options for 100 more MAX 200s, enabling Ryanair to grow its fleet to 585 by 2024.

Alas, with the current crisis that’s far from coming to an end, Ryanair’s massive fleet growth might take a toll. As the airline’s operations and reputation degrades, O’Leary and Company might have to revisit the world’s most controversial airline’s plans to remain viable and profitable.