Ryanair and Aer Lingus parent, International Airlines' Group (IAG), could be hit by a fall in UK passenger numbers following the Brexit vote, according to a leading industry body.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that a weakened sterling and shrinking economy could cut UK airline passenger numbers, which hit 250 million last year, by 3 to 5 per cent by 2020.
A report the association published yesterday shows that Ryanair and IAG, owner of Aer Lingus, are amongst the airlines that are most exposed to a fall in air travel.
The UK is one of Ryanair’s biggest markets, accounting for more than 30 million of the 100-plus million passengers that it flies every year.
This gave it a large share of the 117 million people that flew between the UK and the rest of the EU last year. It also employs 4,000 people there.
IAG's other airlines include British Airways, which carried more than 43 million people last year. The group warned in a statement following the vote that it does not expect this year's growth in operating profits to match that of 2015.
Ryanair's chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs, said that the Irish company would campaign to have the UK remains in the EU's Open Skies regime, which allows airlines to fly freely between member states.
However, he indicated that Ryanair is more likely to spend money on countries within the EU, such as the Republic, Germany, Spain and Italy. "It's going to mean that when we are looking at investing, we will look outside the UK," he said.
The vote sent travel stocks tumbling. IAG fell 22.54 per cent to 409 pence sterling in London. Ryanair shares were were down 11.77 per cent at €12.07 in Dublin.
Shaun Quinn, chief executive of State body, Fáilte Ireland, responsible for promoting tourism to the Republic, said it was too early to speculate on the likely impact of the vote on the industry.
"Fáilte Ireland will be monitoring any short term impacts of a devalued sterling on tourist numbers to Ireland and working with businesses in the sector to develop strategies to address any arising competitiveness challenges," he said.
The Irish Hotels Federation warned that there was a risk a risk that economic uncertainty and a weaker sterling would hit visitor numbers from the UK.
Republic attracts three million tourists from Britain every year. The hospitality industry fears that this number could decline as the Brexit fallout continues.