Ryanair will ground aircraft and cut flights this winter in a move that will lose it up to 1.5 million passengers, most of them at Stansted.

The low-cost carrier will ground eight aircraft at Stansted out of a fleet of 36 and operate 250 flights per week fewer from the airport, costing it 900,000 passengers. The aircraft will be grounded from November to March.

Ryanair blamed an increase in charges at Stansted, which now total £10 per passenger, but conceded the high price of oil was also a factor.

The airline also blamed high airport costs for its decision to ground four aircraft at Dublin for the winter season, cutting 150 flights and 500,000 passengers.

The carrier gave the same reason for closing seven of its bases in continental Europe for six weeks. The bases at Palma in Majorca, Valencia in Spain, Basel in Switzerland, Budapest (Hungary), Krakow and Rzeszow (Poland) and Salzburg (Austria) will close from November 4 to December 19.

Ryanair said it had sought and failed to win reductions in charges at all the airports at which it is cutting services.
Chief executive Michael O’Leary hit out at Stansted and its owner BAA in particular, saying: “We hope the Competition Commission will call for the break up of BAA.”

The UK Competition Commission is due to report next month on whether BAA’s ownership of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted distorts the market.

A spokesman for Stansted said: “Many airlines reduce services in the winter. The aviation industry is coping with the challenges of a global economic downturn. Surely this is a time for the industry to pull together.”