More caring O’Leary to deliver for Ryanair?
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary during the company’s agm in Dublin Airport yesterday. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
The thought of a touchy-feely Michael O’Leary is even scarier than the current, combative incarnation, but it seems that the airline and its chief executive are going to have to reinvent themselves following yesterday’s agm.
Summing it up, some shareholders believe that a perception that Ryanair treats its customers poorly is deterring people from flying with it.
To give him his due, O’Leary acted as a lightening rod, ensuring that any blame was diverted to himself and away from the company’s staff, who he consistently backed. (Although he did suggest that there might be times where the response of some of the airline’s sub contractors on the ground might not be satisfactory.)
The upshot is that Ryanair’s image is going to be softened, which of course means that O’Leary himself will have to fall in with this.
However, there is a case for arguing that the concerns run deeper than just public perception. Ryanair is still growing, but the rate at which it is doing so looks to have tapered off quite sharply. In the 12 months to the end of June this year, it carried 80 million passengers, 4 per cent more than the 77 million that it flew over the 12 months to the end of June 2012.
That was over 3 per cent ahead of the previous year, 2011, which was 8 per cent ahead of the 12 months to the end of June 2010, when the total was 69.2 million. Taking the same period, the 12 months to the end of June, up to 2010, the rolling annual total number of passengers carried by Ryanair grew by double figures, between 15 per cent and 20 per cent, in the years since 2003.
So the slowdown in passenger growth is much more pronounced in recent years. Yesterday, O’Leary said that this was because Ryanair did not have the craft needed to keep up with demand, a claim supported to a certain extent by the fact that it has consistently sold around 80 per cent of its seats. So it is buying more planes, 175 to be precise, at a cost of €11.6 billion, according to some reports.
This will bring its total fleet to 400 craft in two years time. To match this, it has plans to grow passenger numbers by 25 per cent, past 100 million.
It managed growth like this in the past, but from a lower base and against a different economic background.
That does not mean that it cannot do so again, but nevertheless the airline is striking a very big bet. Investor nerves over its ability to attract new customers are more than justified.
A touchier, feelier O’Leary and a more caring Ryanair might deliver the goods, but if they don’t, investors are going to be anything but sensitive.