Ryanair may apply for a British operating licence to retain post-Brexit untrammelled access to its biggest market.
The Irish airline said yesterday that it is on course to carry 200 million passengers by 2024, after lifting its growth forecast by 10pc.
Ryanair said it’s growing as other airlines are being sidelined by bruising competition in the sector, cutting routes and existing bases. That’s given Ryanair access to main airports in cities including Frankfurt, Brussels and Milan. By the end of this year Ryanair will fly to more primary than secondary airports for the first time.
“We have EU incumbents retrenching, restructuring… creating more and more opportunities for Ryanair, particularly in primary airports,” chief executive Michael O’Leary said in a video presentation.
The carrier also announced that it would return an additional €550m to shareholders by February in a share buyback, a move that helped lift its shares by 6pc yesterday.
Ryanair cut its profit forecast last month by 5pc for the year to March due to sterling weakness and lower average fares, but it still expects to outperform most rivals by increasing profits by 7pc in the year to the end of March.
Having campaigned against Brexit, Mr O’Leary said yesterday that his airline may need to create a new subsidiary to obtain a UK airline operating certificate (AOC) to ensure continued access to the market there post-Brexit.
“The second half of the year will be difficult in a weaker pricing environment, but we expect that with a huge cost advantage over every other carrier in Europe, Ryanair is well positioned to continue to grow strongly.”
Ryanair said it plans to grow capacity by 13pc this winter compared to an industry average increase of around 9pc – the highest level of capacity growth in the industry in a decade.
Already Europe’s largest carrier by passenger numbers, Ryanair said it hopes to lift its share of the European short-haul market from 15pc to over 20pc by 2024. It will defer retirement of around 40 planes to boost capacity to 585 Boeing 737 airliners by 2024.
Ryanair reported a 7pc increase in first-half profits to €1.168bn yesterday morning, on the back of 12pc traffic growth to 65 million customers in the six-month period.
Pressure in the sector is now intense – average fares fell 10pc to €50 in the first half, and three weeks ago Ryanair cut its profit forecast for the year by 5pc due to sterling weakness and competition.
Rival EasyJet warned in October that its annual profit had fallen by more than a quarter and hinted that trading would remain tough. (Additional reporting Reuters)
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