Caveat: Declan Ryan gets ready for tilt at Argentina

Irelandia Aviation managing partner hopes to start new airline in country next year

The Ryan family of Ryanair fame is eyeing up yet another South American market. It means the work/travel schedule of Declan Ryan, the managing partner of the family's Irelandia Aviation investment group, could get a little Messi.

Ryan, who is notoriously media shy on his home turf, gave an in-depth interview this week to La Nacion, an Argentine newspaper. He said Irelandia hopes to start a new airline in Argentina in 2017.

It is already an investor in VivaAerobus in Mexico and VivaColombia, along with various co-investors.

Some of the Argentine press got a little carried away with Ryan’s interview, and erroneously reported that Ryanair, which Declan used to run, is set to start operations in Argentina. It seems the new airline will operate as VivaArgentina.


Ryan told La Nacion it could start operations for as little as $50 million, beginning with five aircraft.

“If life is good to us, and we get some Irish luck, we hope [to start operations] in 2017,” said Ryan, according to a translation of the original piece from Spanish.

Ryan apparently met Guillermo Dietricht, the transport minister of Argentina under the new regime of president Mauricio Macri during the week. Typically for a low-cost aviation baron, he had a few complaints about landing charges and other costs.

Ryan said that, of the 38 airports in Argentina, 35 are run by Aeropuertos Argentina 2000.

“It does not seem very fair. Now we [will] get together with the authorities and [we] hope to do so again. [But] they have to cut costs. In Colombia, for example, there are four companies competing in the business.”


Ryan apparently also raised concerns about corruption in his meetings with officials, although he seems to view Brazil as the worst for graft.

“We started negotiations in all countries in the region except Brazil because there is [so] much corruption,” he said.

With a nod to a religious corruption scandal that has been all over the Argentine media, Ryan joked it “made me want to go back to the church”.

He hinted that VivaArgentina may target low cost flights to the Andes region, and expressed amazement that students from these areas travel 20 hours by bus to bigger cities. Ryan said he wanted to open low cost air travel in a country where flying isn’t nearly as second nature as it is in Europe.

“According to the data we handle, only between 5 and 7 per cent of Argentines have ever flown. That number will triple and it should be 20 per cent or more,” he told La Nacion.

“ When we started in Colombia, only 2.5 per cent of the population had ever been on a plane. Today, after four years operating in the country, the percentage has increased to 10 per cent.”

Ryan seemed to suggest that Viva LatinAmerica, the loose grouping that incorporates the various airlines in the region backed by Irelandia and others, is also close to announcing its intentions for other countries. Peru and Ecuador are mentioned as likely candidates by local press.

In Argentina, the group is also rumoured to be lining up the acquisition of Andes Líneas Aéreas, although Ryan was not cited as a source for this nugget.

It has, however, abandoned its attempt to break into the market in Costa Rica, according to recent comments attributed to Viva's chief executive Joe Mohan.

Viva Cuba

Cuba, with its emigrant links to the lucrative US market, is another obvious pin in Viva’s map, although they might want to be careful with the Viva name in that market. Fidel might have it copyrighted.

The thought of Ryanair’s soaring share price, meanwhile, should drive Irelandia on as Ryan nudges the Viva group towards a flotation.

Judging by records at the Companies Registration Office, Ryan has no shortage of other business interests to keep him occupied.

One of the more interesting punts he has taken is on Coindrum, which instals machines in airports to collect leftover foreign coins from passengers, swapping them for airport retail vouchers.

This month, Coindrum started operations in Faro in Portugal, following on from similar recent success in Milan. Ryan sits on the board, along with Tipperary Crystal founder Declan Fearon.

Always drumming up business opportunities . . .

Footnotes . . .

The chief executives of Irish building materials companies must be fond of a bit of lycra.

First it was Grafton boss Gavin Slark, who recently completed a French coast-to-coast cycle for a charity associated with Sunderland football club. Now Gene Murtagh, the chief executive of Kingspan group, is at it too.

Murtagh and eight other staff from Kingspan have just completed the gruelling 650km Wild Mediterranean Way Cycle Challenge, which runs from from Canet-en Roussilon in southern France, to Barcelona in Catalonia. Just those pesky Pyrenees in the way, then.

Sports journalist Paul Kimmage led a group of more than 50 cyclists on the challenge, held in aid of the Irish Hospice Foundation. The Kingspan group raised more than €65,000.

“We’ve had an exhausting but uplifting experience, enjoying some beautiful scenery and the support of a fantastic organising team,” said Murtagh.

“Kingspan has sponsored this event since 2009, and we are delighted to be associated with the amazing work of the Irish Hospice Foundation,” he said, possibly in between taking gulps from an oxygen tank.

More than €1 million in total has been raised for the hospice movement since the challenge began in 2009, along with countless sore backsides...

Cidermaker C&C is pressing ahead with its Asia expansion strategy, with yet another distribution deal.

After concluding five similar deals in recent months in the region, C&C announced it has struck an agreement for Magners cider with San Miguel in Taiwan, which is the biggest cider market in Asia in terms of volume.

San Miguel is already the Irish group’s distribution partner in Thailand. C&C earlier this month also struck a Singapore deal with Interbev, and signed a China deal for Tennents with Vandergeeten.

The Taiwan market is growing at 69 per cent, although at a volume of 20,000 hectolitres, it is still only roughly equivalent to the total cider consumption at one Ireland Euros match.

Conor Hardy, C&C’s regional director, lauded the “synergistic collaboration” with San Miguel. Try saying that over and over again at speed after a few pints.

As reported in this newspaper this week, JP McManus didn't spare the horses with his stinging criticism of US and Irish tax officials, as part of his case to recoup $5.2 million he says was incorrectly deducted from a backgammon win.

McManus is well known for his love of the horses, but apparently, backgammon is one of his favourite ways to gamble.

According to a recent report in the Daily Beast, McManus is known for carrying a backgammon set with him on flights, where he supposedly often starts games with random strangers “to win back his airfare”.

Win back his fare? Doesn’t McManus own a Gulfstream jet?