Birmingham International Airport said last night that a decision by budget airline Ryanair to cut some of its winter routes and shut down seven of its operations would have no impact on flights at the airport.
The announcement yesterday of cutbacks by the Irish airline immediately raised concerns that it would scale down its expansion plans at the airport.
However, in a statement, the airport said: "The outlook at Birmingham for people travelling with Ryanair is bright.
"The airline has launched 20 new services already this year from Birmingham and has recently announced a further 11 new destinations for winter 2008/09 so it's business as usual for Birmingham."
Over the next five years, Ryanair could fly as many as 100 new routes out of BIA to destinations throughout Europe. However, to begin with, its ambitions are a little more practical.
Initially the airline is basing two Boeing 737-800 airliners at the airport - an investment of almost £72 million - and these will fly on 22 routes, including five in France, five in Italy, three in Poland, two in Spain and individual routes to Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia and Sweden.
In full, they comprise: Barcelona (Girona), Biarritz, Billund, Bologna, Bratislava, Bydgoszcz, Dinard, Dublin, Gdansk, Marseille, Olbia, Oslo (Sandefjord), Perpignan, Pisa, Poitiers, Porto, Shannon, Stockholm (Skavsta), Trieste, Reus, Rzeszow and Trapani.
The services have gradually been phased in during the summer with the final routes set to be added in October.
Ultimately, the plan is for the airline to base another eight 737 airliners at Birmingham, representing an additional investment of £286.29 million.
Yesterday's announcement will see the airline cut winter capacity at Stansted and tempo-rarily shut down seven other operations. The airline has blamed the soaring cost of fuel for the belt-tightening.
The move means the number of weekly flights will be cut from more than 1,850 to just under 1,600 this winter and the airline reckons it will carry around 900,000 fewer passengers.
Ryanair has 36 planes based at Stansted but this will be reduced to 28.
The company has predicted that the cutbacks will mean around 900 job losses at Stan-sted, including around 150 Ryanair staff.
In addition to the price of fuel, chief executive Michael O'Leary said the cost of using Stansted was also too high.
He said he had told Spanish-owned operator BAA, which owns Stansted as well as Heath-row and Gatwick, that he would keep the planes flying if the airport scrapped its charges.
"I asked them to cut the charges by 100 per cent, as they would still be getting the passengers using the airport," he said, adding that the proposal had been rejected.
Ryanair has long campaigned for BAA to be broken up to encourage competition between the London airports. A preliminary report from the Competition Commission earlier this year said the monopoly structure was affecting competition.
The company said yesterday its intention was to reduce the number of flights out of Stan-sted by 14 per cent and ground 25 per cent of aircraft at the London airport, its busiest hub, which handles 15 million passengers a year.
It added that it would close operations at seven European cities including Budapest and Krakow between November 4 and December 19, saying it was too expensive to fly passen-gers at certain locations during the seasonally quiet period.
The airline industry as a whole is braced for what could be its toughest winter of all time as a seasonal fall in customer demand combines with soaring fuel costs to blow holes in airlines' balance sheets.
Mr O'Leary, who said in June that the group would only break even if oil stayed at $130 a barrel and fares increased by five per cent, declined to forecast an annual loss, despite oil soaring past the $140 mark.
"I can't confirm that. If oil stays at $140 a barrel, what happens depends on what happens to average fares. It will depend on how many airlines go bust, and who, when and where," he said, adding that he could not rule out ticket increases...SUPL: