Ryanair upbeat despite plummeting passenger numbers

Low-cost airline Ryanair sees December passenger numbers plunge 83% believes it will emerge from the pandemic stronger than its rivals. Tony McDonough reports

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Passenger numbers at Ryanair fell 83% in December but the airline remains upbeat


Ryanair saw passenger numbers plummet 83% to just 1.9m in December, further illustrating the impact the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have on the aviation sector.

Dublin-based Ryanair, which pre-pandemic operated more than 30 routes out of Liverpool John Lennon Airport (LJLA) said it flew just 22% of its usual December schedule and achieve a load factor (percentage of seats filled) of 73%. Normally it is above 90%.

However, Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary remains bullish about the prospects for the airline in 2021 and 2022. He said the carrier was ready to take advantage of what he called “the biggest clean-out of the aviation sector in a generation”.

Mr O’Leary said Ryanair was in talks with airports across Europe with a view to bolstering its capacity. He said: “I have never in my 30 years in the industry seen such a clean-out. The real seismic change from COVID will be the growth opportunities across Europe. They are much greater than after the financial crisis or 9/11.”

Ryanair itself has been hit hard by the impact of the pandemic. In the year to March 31, 2021, it expects passenger numbers to have totalled 38m, a massive fall on the 154m forecast before the crisis began. Its main rival easyJet has already reported full-year losses of more than £1bn.

At Liverpool John Lennon Airport, where both airlines normally operate more than 30 routes each, capacity has been cut significantly. This winter, Ryanair has slashed capacity at Liverpool by 50%. It will fly to just 10 countries on 20 routes.

Mr O’Leary predicted that 100m of his competitors’ seats would be taken out over the next 18 months, which would result in reduction of around 15% of normal passenger traffic. He said that there is a “working assumption” that Ryanair will fly between 90m and 130m passengers in the 12 months to March 2022.

He added: “We have consistently been planning for a reasonably quick recovery and constantly disappointed. What has changed is the vaccines are arriving… The issue for our industry is, is that recovery in May or August? We just don’t know.”

This week it was revealed that Ryanair’s new ‘jab and go’ advertising campaign was under investigation by the Advertising and Standards Authority. The watchdog has received 1,600 complaints. Launched over Christmas, the adverts say: “COVID vaccines are coming so book your Easter and summer holidays today with Ryanair.”

Social media users branded the campaign “disgusting” and “insensitive” and that it was misleading to suggest the vaccine would be fully rolled-out by the spring and that travel restrictions would be lifted. However, the airline insisted the campaign was based on accurate information.

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