Ryanair aims to overtake Easyjet as UK’s largest airline this year

Michael O’Leary outlines future vision in which average fares drop to €25

Michael O’Leary, CEO, Ryanair, speaking at the Creative Minds: Creative Disruption Economic Conference in Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Michael O’Leary, CEO, Ryanair, speaking at the Creative Minds: Creative Disruption Economic Conference in Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

 

Michael O’Leary has said Ryanair is on course to overtake Easyjet as the biggest UK carrier by the end of the year.

In tandem with plans to position itself as the second largest in Germany within a similar timeframe, Mr O’Leary presented the growth as further momentum in the airline’s European dominance.

Speaking at the US embassy’s “Creative Minds: Creative Disruption” economic conference in Dublin on Wednesday, the outspoken chief executive said a new design in future Boeing aircraft and their improved fuel consumption rates would help further the company’s ambitions.

Ryanair has an initial order of 200 Boeing 737s - dubbed the “game changer” by Mr O’Leary - which will come into circulation between 2019 and 2023.

They will “transform” the cost base by offering 4 per cent more passenger capacity (eight seats per flight) and yet still manage to deliver more comfortable travel.

On top of that, Mr O’Leary said, the aircraft could cut “per passenger” fuel consumption by up to 19 per cent.

“We have got to keep finding creative ways to take out costs,” he said after addressing a conference focusing largely on innovation.

Fuel costs represent about 45 per cent of the airline’s expenditure. “If we can reduce that by a double digit number it means that we are again getting closer and closer to my idea where ultimately we can lower our average fares from €45 to €25.”

While revealing part of its strategy to expand European market share, Mr O’Leary reiterated that Ryanair could not source a fleet of long haul aircraft cheaply due to a backlog of orders from Gulf carriers and so any potential for a future of no frills transatlantic flight was “off the table for at least five years.”

With services slowly returning to Brussels following the recent terrorist attacks, Mr O’Leary said the potential for further such incidents was always a threat to the sector.

“The danger for us is that you will have one or two more of these events somewhere in Europe during the summer and that will undoubtedly affect consumer confidence,” he said.

At the end of his conference he implored business leaders to encourage UK voters to reject next month’s referendum on a potential EU exit.

To do so, he said, would be economically detrimental and the leave campaign had “nothing to offer”.

“I think it will be very close. The economy in the UK is struggling. If they vote just on the issue I think the vast majority of the UK would vote to remain,” he said.

“But if it becomes a kind of midterm referendum on the Conservative government then I think it’s going to be very close.”

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