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Discount airline Ryanair is slashing its service at Stansted Airport in England, its main U.K. hub located about an hour’s drive from U.S. air bases.

Ryanair announced in a press release Tuesday that it is reducing the number of planes it uses at the airport from 40 to 24 this winter. The airline estimated that its move will reduce the number of passengers at Stansted by 2.5 million between October and March 2010.

The airline said it is cutting its service because the BAA, which operates Stansted, has rejected the carrier’s call for deep cuts in passenger fees. It also cited an increase in the United Kingdom’s 10 pound tourist tax (nearly $17) to 11 pounds, despite tourism declining 6 percent in June at BAA’s airports in the U.K.

The airline said Stansted and Dublin are the most expensive airports from which it operates.

"Sadly U.K. traffic and tourism continue to collapse while Ryanair continues to grow traffic rapidly in those countries which welcome tourists instead of taxing them," Ryanair’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, said in the release.

Ryanair’s discount flights around Europe are popular with U.S. military and civilian travelers, who typically book online. Officials at travel booking offices at RAF Lakenheath said Wednesday that they book only major carriers, so they couldn’t gauge the effect of Ryanair’s cutbacks on their American customers.

Stansted officials said airlines often change their schedules based on the season, so it’s not unusual that Ryanair is doing so.


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