RYANAIR has reportedly cut a large number of flights from two key UK routes after the worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.
According to the Independent, Europe's biggest budget airline will cancel several flights to Belfast and Edinburgh from London partly in response to the grounding – which followed last month's deadly Ethiopian Airlines crash.
Travel correspondent Simon Calder says Ryanair is cutting back its Stansted-Belfast service from three flights per day to just two per week – while its Stansted-Edinburgh service will be slashed from four per day to only four a week, with none of Mondays, Tuesday and Wednesdays.
Irish carrier Ryanair has ordered 135 jets which are a variant of the Boeing 737 MAX known as the MAX 200, with 40 set to arrive over the next year starting at London Stansted.
However, it remains to be seen whether aviation authorities will allow the aircraft to fly after it was grounded around the world in the wake of the Ethiopian tragedy – the second time a 737 MAX had crashed in just four months.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a MAX 8 aircraft, crashed just six minutes after takeoff from Addis Adaba on a scheduled flight to Nairobi, Kenya on March 10 – killing all 149 passengers and 8 crew members on board.
It came just four months after another MAX 8 plane, Lion Air Flight 610, plunged into the Java Sea just 13 minutes after takeoff in Indonesia on October 29, 2018 – with the loss of all 189 on board.
The 737 MAX's Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) has been implicated in both accidents, and experts have suggested that Boeing provided insufficient MCAS training for pilots.
MCAS was developed to prevent stalls caused by upward-pitching, a particular problem for the 737 MAX as its engines are mounted higher and further forward than previous 737 models.
The controversial system uses airspeed, altitude and angle of attack (AOA) sensor data to automatically "trim" the aircraft's nose down when it considers a dangerous situation to be developing.
On March 28, Boeing announced it had updated its MCAS software and revised pilot certification requirements for the 737 MAX aircraft subject to the approval of international aviation bodies, but doubts remain as to whether the jet will ever fly again.
Thousands of passengers are already booked on Ryanair's now-cancelled flights to Belfast and Edinburgh from Stansted, according to the Independent.
The airline is offering affected travellers a transfer to another operating service or a full refund.