Ryanair aims to carry 165 million passengers next year as it cashes in on opportunities left by Covid-weakened rivals.
The Irish carrier – Europe’s biggest – earned a €224.6 million profit in the three months ended September 30th, its first surplus since Covid-19 hit air travel in March 2020.
Chief executive Michael O’Leary cautioned in a statement that it would lose €100 million-€200 million in its current financial year, which ends on March 31st, as it cuts prices to spur demand.
However, he told industry analysts that Ryanair expected “to carry 165 million passengers” in its next financial year, which ends on March 31st, 2023.
Mr O'Leary said airline failures including Norwegian and Flybe, combined with cuts by rivals such as Easyjet and Jet2, had left the Irish carrier with unchallenged scope to expand.
"The growth opportunity has never been more exciting," he said. "Europe is full of opportunity but there doesn't seem to be much competitor response at all."
Boeing is due to have delivered 65 of its new 737 Max 10 jets to Ryanair by June, making it one of the few airlines in Europe that is growing its fleet.
Mr O’Leary said airports recognised this and were working with the Irish group on plans to open new bases or increase aircraft numbers at existing ones.
He acknowledged that Boeing continued to fall short of promises to deliver the new aircraft.
The US manufacturer has pledged to provide eight of the new jets a month to Ryanair, but only managed six in September and October and will send five this month.
“It’s really silly stuff,” said Mr O’Leary. He added that while Boeing pledged to deliver 65 aircraft by end of April, Ryanair believed it would reach that figure in June.
Speaking after Ryanair published first-half results, chief financial officer Neil Sorahan said that it could increase schedules at Dublin Airport next year following the Government's pledge to provide €90 million to relaunch routes and open new ones.
Ryanair recently confirmed it would restore full pre-Covid schedules at Cork and Shannon airports from next summer.
However, it warned that capacity at Dublin would be a third smaller, blaming the Government for failing to support incentives at the Republic’s biggest airport beyond the end of next June.
Mr Sorahan said Ryanair welcomed the Government’s move, which is awaiting EU state aid clearance.
"Ireland had been trailing behind Europe in securing capacity," he remarked. Mr Sorahan added that if the EU approved the Government's aid, Ryanair would be "very keen" to work with Dublin Airport on restoring routes.
Mr O'Leary said that the Irish plan, and others like it in Spain and Italy, would help Ryanair control costs into next year.
Earlier, Ryanair said losses in the six months to September 30 fell to €48 million from €411 million during the same period in 2020.
It earned €224.6 million profit after tax in the second quarter, the peak holiday months, the first since March 2020.
Ryanair had originally predicted it would break even or make a small loss in its current financial year,
Mr Sorahan explained that cutting fares to stimulate demand during part of the second half would contribute most to the €100 million-€200 million full-year loss it forecast on Monday.
“It’s mainly stimulation of traffic,” he said, adding there was some fuel increases also, covering the 25 per cent of its requirement that is not hedged.
The airline’s chief executive told analysts that forward bookings for Christmas, spring break in February and Easter were strong.
In contrast, Ryanair expects to charge lower fares this month, in January and between spring break in February and Easter next year.