5 February 2003

255,000 passengers hit as Ryanair cuts flights after Buzz takeover

By Paul Marston, Transport Correspondent

More than 55,000 passengers began seeking refunds yesterday after Ryanair cancelled the launch of a seven-route network from Bournemouth by its new subsidiary, Buzz.

A further 200,000 travellers booked on flights from Stansted will be placed in the same position within four weeks as the Irish carrier presses ahead with plans to cut 10 routes to Continental Europe from the airport in Essex.

About 100 jobs will be lost at Stansted, mostly in sales and marketing.

Ryanair managers said that Buzz would be closed if unions tried to block the cuts.

Sales of tickets from Bournemouth to Amsterdam, Paris, Belfast, the Spanish resorts of Malaga and Murcia, and Bergerac and La Rochelle in France were halted as Ryanair announced that it in wanted to clear Buzz's £20 million losses within 12 months.

Disappointed customers will be offered a refund, or a Ryanair flight from Stansted to another destination. The decision was a severe setback for the South Coast airport, which had been expecting Buzz's arrival to increase passenger numbers from 400,000 last year to well over a million, drawing travellers from the South West, the western Home Counties and south west London.

An airport official said: "We had no inkling this might happen. More than 50,000 tickets have been sold in less than two months." Over the next two weeks Ryanair executives will visit the 21 European airports that Buzz serves from Stansted to review which routes should continue.

Michael O'Leary, chief executive, said it was "very unlikely" that Amsterdam, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt Main would remain after April 1 when the takeover is due to be completed.

A further seven or eight routes would be dropped, mainly reflecting which airports were the most expensive from which to operate. Some of these destinations, particularly in France, had turned down Ryanair in the past, said Mr O'Leary, because Buzz had been prepared to pay higher charges.

He promised, however, that on the routes that were retained fares would fall by an average of 50 per cent and frequencies would be increased to at least one flight a day year-round.

Ryanair is considering opening new routes to non-European Union countries in Eastern Europe next year. As an Irish-registered airline it cannot do this, but this restriction could be overcome by using Buzz's UK operating certificate.