Ryanair CEO says recovery remains fragile, risks remain

Ryanair continues to enjoy a very strong recovery but it remains fragile and could be confused by external developments, chief executive Michael O’Leary said today.

“While our recovery and growth is very strong, it is still very fragile and susceptible to collapse in the event of adverse external developments,” Michael O’Leary told a press conference in London.

It “looks like we’re on track” to report an average of 4% empty seats per flight for the month of August, the same level as July, he said.

Michael O’Leary also said today that the European short-haul aviation market is unlikely to return to its pre-pandemic peak in the next two years due to high energy costs and the resulting economic shock.

“I think the overall market won’t come back in 2023, 2024 to pre-Covid traffic levels. They’ll probably lag behind,” he said.

Ryanair, on the other hand, “will strengthen in a recession like we have in every other recession so far,” he said.

The airline boss said Ryanair’s relatively high level of fuel cover and low aircraft costs would allow it to undercut rivals.

Earlier this month, Ryanair raised its full-year forecast for passenger numbers after adding more flights to its UK winter schedule in response to cuts from rival British Airways, owned by ‘IAG.

Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers expects to carry 166.5 million passengers in the year to the end of March.

This represents an increase from a previous target of 165 million, having added more than one million seats to and from 20 UK airports.

British Airways announced this week that it was canceling some flights until the end of October following Heathrow Airport’s decision to limit capacity to cope with widespread disruption.

Airlines and airports across Europe have struggled to cope with the post-lockdown travel rebound, with many failing to recruit enough staff to handle check-ins and baggage.

However, Ryanair, which has been keen to keep its pilots and crew updated on their flying times during the pandemic and does not fly from Heathrow, carried its highest number of passengers in a month in June and July.

It took advantage of competitor cancellations, particularly in the UK, by adding extra flights.

The Irish airline carried 97 million passengers in its last financial year and a record 149 million before the Covid-19 pandemic.