A union has warned that hundreds of jobs have been placed at risk after operator Stobart Air ended its contract with the Irish airline Aer Lingus.
The announcement has led to the cancellation of several flights from Dublin and Belfast City airports to UK cities.
Aer Lingus said the airline informed them on Friday night it was terminating its franchise agreement and was in the process of appointing a liquidator.
Aer Lingus said it is now communicating with customers to advise them of their options for refund or rebooking.
Neil McGowan of the Siptu union said: “The decision by Stobart Air to cease operations is the latest blow to the aviation industry and airports in Ireland. The move has put hundreds of jobs at immediate risk.
“These routes are of vital importance to these regional airports. It is crucial that these routes are maintained and the Government takes immediate steps to restore these services.”
The announcement affects flights from Dublin to Kerry, Donegal, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newquay.
Flights from Belfast City Airport to Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds Bradford, Exeter and East Midlands have also been cancelled.
A spokesperson for Belfast City Airport said: “We were informed by Aer Lingus this morning that Stobart Air, who operated the Aer Lingus regional franchise, has ceased operations.
“The Aer Lingus Heathrow service is not affected and is still operating.
A spokesperson for Stobart Air said: “It is with great regret and sadness that Stobart Air can confirm that the board is in the process of appointing a liquidator to the business and the airline is to cease operations with immediate effect.
“Stobart Air apologises to all its customers for the inconvenience caused at short notice. All 480 staff at the airline have been informed.
“Last April, Stobart Air announced that a new owner had been identified. However, it has emerged that the funding to support this transaction is no longer in place and the new owner is now unable to conclude the transaction.
“Given the continued impact of the pandemic which has virtually halted air travel… and in the absence of any alternative purchasers or sources of funding, the board of Stobart Air must take the necessary, unavoidable and difficult decision to seek to appoint a liquidator.”
Irish Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said: “The announcement is concerning news for the affected workers and for regional connectivity.
“We will be engaging with all stakeholders today and over the comings days to restore connectivity to the regional airports affected.”
Rory Boland, Which? travel editor, said passengers will want to know that their money and bookings are safe.
He added: “It is right that the carrier is contacting passengers to discuss their refund or rebooking options.
“It must also ensure that any passengers left stranded as a result are rebooked onto an alternative flight at their earliest convenience.
“Stobart Air ceasing trading will be sobering news for the industry as the pandemic’s impact continues to wreak havoc on the travel sector. With most foreign travel still grounded, it’s vital the Government steps in with tailored support for the travel industry.”
In Northern Ireland, Alliance Party MLA Stewart Dickson said incoming Economy Minister Paul Frew needs to seek an urgent meeting with Belfast City Airport and Aer Lingus.
He said: “This is incredibly disappointing news for families and businesses affected by this news and my thoughts are with them and anyone whose job is impacted as a result.”