Ryanair is axing all but one of its 10 routes from Manchester Airport in a drive to cut costs after the hub refused to reduce its charges.
The aggressive withdrawal signals that the no-frills carrier is prepared to exploit is strong market position to negotiate lower airport fees.
It means Manchester Airport Group (MAG) will lose a total of 44 weekly flights from October 1 and 600,000 passengers a year. It will also mean the loss of up to 600 local jobs.
In a further blow to Manchester, Ryanair said it will switch some of the routes to ‘lower cost competitor airports’.
A Ryanair spokesman said: ‘Ryanair had offered new routes, traffic and growth to Manchester Airport but since they prefer to preserve their high cost base than to grow, Ryanair will now switch/close nine Manchester routes to East Midlands, Leeds Bradford and Liverpool.’
The budget airline said it offered Manchester an additional 28 weekly flights and 400,000 new passengers, which would have created 400 new jobs, if the airport ‘reduced its high charges’.
But it said airport bosses rejected the offer. Ryanair has recently flexed its muscles with both Dublin and Stansted airports – both of whom it accuses of imposing sky-high charges on its airline customers.
It is to cut flights at Dublin by 20 per cent and by 14 per cent at Stansted this winter compared with last year.
In 2003, the airline threatened to pull out of France altogether in a row over airport subsidies.
Analysts said Ryanair’s strong-arm tactics with airports is clearly working because, despite the recession, it still has a strong balance sheet and will be one of just a handful of carriers to report a profit this year.
Douglas McNeil, analyst at Astaire Securities, said: ‘Ryanair is making sure it uses its enormous muscle to get good prices.
‘It is a policy that is working because it is in better financial shape than any other airline.’
Jonathan Bailey, director of MAG, said losing Ryanair’s business was ‘a setback’.
He said: ‘All airlines negotiate hard with us, especially in a recession.
‘But we are not a high-cost airport. It’s really very disappointing they have made this decision.’
He noted MAG charges airlines an average £3 per passenger, compared with about £25 at Heathrow and as much as £16 at Gatwick.