Ryanair boss tells Ireland and EU to ‘get the finger out’ on vaccinations

Airline predicts €950m losses as Michael O’Leary urges speeding up of vaccine rollout

Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary has predicted that passengers in Europe will "fly in their millions" once all high-risk groups and people aged over 50 are vaccinated against Covid-19. Video: Reuters

 

Ryanair Holdings has predicted it could lose up to €950 million in its current financial year as chief executive Michael O’Leary urged the Republic and EU to accelerate Covid-19 vaccinations.

The Irish airline group said on Monday net losses for the three months ended December 31st, the third quarter of its 2021 financial year, were €306 million, against a profit of €88 million for the same period in 2019.

Ryanair also booked a charge of €15 million for unused fuel hedges during the quarter, bringing total losses to €321 million.

The group “cautiously” guided a net loss of €850 million to €950 million for its 2021 financial year, which ends on March 31st.

Ryanair noted that changing Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns and vaccination programmes had limited visibility for the final three months of its financial year.

Revenue for the three months tumbled 82 per cent to €340 million from €1.91 billion. Passenger numbers were down 78 per cent at 8.1 million from 35.9 million.

Flight bans and other restrictions imposed by the Irish and European governments in days before Christmas cut December traffic alone by 83 per cent to 1.9 million.

Mr O’Leary confirmed to RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland that the airline would not ask passengers for proof that they have been vaccinated.

He said the airline would ask Government and the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) “to get the finger out” and accelerate vaccinations.

‘Failed lockdowns’

He added: “Vaccination is the way out of this Covid crisis, not these failed lockdowns.”

Mr O’Leary pointed out that 50 per cent of the UK population would be vaccinated by the end of March.

Europe and Ireland needs to get its act together and catch up. If 50 per cent of our population is vaccinated by the end of June, which is what we now expect, we see a strong recovery of travel, in summer holidays through the school holidays into August and September.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said later on RTÉ that the Government would take its advice from the chief medical officer and Nphet, “not from Ryanair or Michael O’Leary”.

The airline expects a strong recovery in Dublin and Shannon airports, but not Cork. “We don’t think there will be a recovery in Cork,” Mr O’Leary said. “It will be delayed because there’s a very high cost of operations in Cork.”

Cork Airport responded that it was in talks with airlines on restarting commercial operations.

“A generous discount framework will be available to all airlines operating from Cork Airport post-pandemic to incentivise airline traffic recovery,” a statement said.

Previous prediction

Ryanair expects to fly between 26 million and 30 million passengers in the 12 months ended March 31st, from a previous prediction of up to 35 million.

Since Covid-19 struck it cut costs by participating in EU government wage support schemes, cancelling share buy-backs and deferring spending. Costs fell 63 per cent to €670 million in the third quarter.

Ryanair had €3.5 billion in cash at the end of December, while about 80 per cent of its aircraft fleet, worth €7 billion, was free of any liabilities.

It intends repaying more than €1.5 billion in debt that falls due over the next six months.

During this quarter, the group will receive the first of the 210 Boeing 737 Max 200 aircraft that it has ordered from the US manufacturer.

Ryanair pledged to restore schedules and recover lost traffic as Covid-19 receded this year in the face of EU government vaccination programmes, helping to reignite the bloc’s ailing tourist industry.

Air traffic control body Eurocontrol predicts that more airlines will follow Flybe, Germanwings, Level and Montenegro to the wall this year.

Ryanair believes a cut in European airlines’ capacity will open growth opportunities as it takes delivery of its new aircraft.