The Italian civil aviation authority’s warning to Ryanair over a failure to comply with Covid-19 rules follows the carrier’s dismissal of health guidance for airlines on handling luggage.

Italian aviation regulator ENAC threatened Ryanair with a suspension of flights this week for “repeated violations of Covid-19 health regulations”.

Continuing violations would see the carrier restricted to flying half-full, the regulator warned, pending possible suspension.

Ryanair responded by insisting: “The assertions of ENAC are incorrect. Ryanair is fully complying with the measures decreed by the Italian government.”

However, Italian media reported the breaches include cabin crew failing to enforce the wearing of face masks by passengers and failing to control disembarkation as passengers rush to remove luggage from overhead bins.

The Italian government’s Covid-safety regulations follow the guidelines of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) issued in May.

These require passengers and crew to wear face masks and airlines to “minimise the amount of hand luggage taken into the cabin to expedite boarding and disembarking”.

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary dismissed the luggage guidance as “miss-advice” last month, insisting: “Advising passengers to check in bags is less safe.”

Instead, the carrier asks passengers to minimise check-in baggage.

When the UK Department for Transport incorporated the EASA policy into its guidance in June, Ryanair dismissed it as “nonsensical”.

The cabin baggage restriction is aimed to prevent crowding and queuing as boarding passengers try to find spaces for bags in overhead lockers and as disembarking passengers rush to retrieve bags.

Many airlines are restricting the use of overhead lockers in order to comply.

The guidelines are backed by airline association Iata and by Airlines for Europe (A4E), of which Ryanair is a member.

ENAC issued the warning to Ryanair in writing, noting it had “informed the competent Irish authority of the repeated violations of anti-Covid-19 health regulations”.

It cited “numerous violations of health regulations on board aircraft” and reported: “Ryanair systematically does not comply with the provisions.

“Not only is the obligation of distance between passengers not respected, but the conditions for derogating from this distance are also ignored.”

ENAC warned that “if violations of the rules and conduct should persist by Ryanair” it would allow “the filling of aircraft only up to 50% of the capacity”.

The regulator added: “A further failure to comply” would lead to “the suspension of all air transport activities at national airports, requiring the carrier to re-route all passengers.”