Ryanair lost €143 million in the nine months to the end of last year as European air travel began recovering from widespread Covid curbs.
The airline stuck with a forecast that it could lose €250 million-€450 million in its current financial year, which ends on March 31st, when it published third quarter results on Monday.
Its figures show losses for the nine months to the end of December tumbled 80 per cent to €143.4 million in 2021 from €731 million during the same period in 2020, which included months when air travel was grounded.
The airline lost €96 million in the final three months of 2021, the third quarter of its financial year, as the Republic and other European countries stepped up travel restrictions following the emergence of Covid’s Omicron strain.
Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s group chief executive, said the airline expected to fly just short of 100 million passengers in its current financial year. He stressed that this calculation was hugely sensitive to any further positive or negative Covid news.
Consequently, Mr O'Leary cautioned shareholders to expect "further Covid disruptions before we here in Europe, and the rest of the world, can finally declare that the Covid crisis is behind us".
Neil Sorahan, chief financial officer, blamed European governments' restrictions and "media over-reaction" to omicron for deterring travellers who would normally book in the weeks before Christmas and the new year.
“They did not materialise, they tend to be the higher-yielding passengers,” he added.
Ryanair has already said that it expects to carry six to seven million passengers this month after cutting planned capacity by one third. It originally expected about 10 million customers.
Recent bookings have improved on the back of eased pandemic restrictions, according to Mr O’Leary. However, he noted that travellers are reserving flights close to departure dates.
“The outlook for pricing and yields for the remainder of full-year 2022 is hugely uncertain,” he warned, noting that Ryanair was cutting fares to boost seat sales, which declined during the Omicron wave.
The airline carried 31.1 million passengers during the final three months of 2021, almost four times the 8.1 million it carried during the same time the previous year.
Revenues for the quarter hit €1.47 billion. Sales for the nine months to the end of December totalled €3.6 billion, against €1.5 billion over the corresponding period in 2020. Ryanair’s revenues for the nine months to December 31st, 2019, the year before the pandemic hit international travel, were €7.3 billion.
Mr Sorohan confirmed that the airline was well on target to receive 65 of its new Boeing 737-8200 aircraft on time for peak summer flying. It has already received 41 of these from the US manufacturer since last year, some of which are now flying. Deliveries of the new aircraft and deposits for others accounted for most of Ryanair's €800 million capital spending last year.
The jets carry 4 per cent more passengers, cut fuel consumption by 16 per cent and make 40 per cent less noise, the airline said.
CDP, formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project, a non-profit organisation that aids companies in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, upgraded Ryanair's environmental rating to B from B- in December.
The airline says it is on track to carry 225 million passengers in 2026, up five million on previous forecasts. Before the pandemic, traffic had reached 149 million annually.
The airline has added 15 new bases across Europe and announced 720 routes. It will fly a record 120 services from Dublin this summer. It has also extended existing deals with bases including London Stansted and Bergamo Milan.
Ryanair had €3 billion cash on December 31st. Mr O’Leary said the strength of its balance sheet left it “well poised to capitalise rapidly on the many growth opportunities” opened by Europe’s post-Covid recovery.