Fledgling Ryanair clashed with minister over approval for jets

Correspondence reveals chairman AJ Walls’ frustration with Jim Mitchell’s stance

Newly operational Ryanair had a row with minister for communications Jim Mitchell over his decision to defer approval for new jets on the Dublin-Luton route.

The company argued it had created a market it could not satisfy without such equipment.

Chairman of the airline AJ Walls wrote to the minister on July 11th 1986, in reply to correspondence of two days earlier, expressing disappointment that the minister had announced decisions about Ryanair at a press conference on July 10th.

Founded in 1985, Ryanair had less than two months earlier introduced an unrestricted cross-channel fare of £94.99 on a fleet of 44 turboprop planes.


Announcing reduced airline and ferry fares at his press conference on July 10th, Mr Mitchell had said he was opposed to over-hasty expansion by the airline.

“This company has only been operational five or six weeks and it would not be prudent to make judgments on that basis.”

Mr Mitchell had agreed, however, to approve Ryanair’s request to increase the frequency on its Dublin-Luton route from 25 to 28 round trips per week.

The July 11th letter to the minister from Mr Walls in the National Archives files read: “I am very disappointed that you seem to have deferred approval of our application for jets for an indefinite period during which we must achieve or maintain certain indefinite standards to ‘prove ourselves’.”

Mr Walls wrote that if the airline’s commercial and operational performances were to be measured, this must be done with the equipment which, in its judgment, was required for the operation.

The Ryanair chairman noted Richard Branson of Virgin had, the previous day, indicated he intended to apply to use jets (on the Dublin-London route).

Serious worry

“You will remember that I expressed a serious worry to you that the restriction on our capacity and equipment will leave a gap which will be exploited by the British,” Mr Walls wrote.

He added that Ryanair was at that stage engaged in negotiations for jet equipment and he requested an urgent meeting with the minister to review his decision.

A lengthy draft response to Mr Wall from Mr Mitchell, stated: “Within the limits of what the national interest dictates, I will continue to support the development of Ryanair. But I will not allow Ryanair to hijack national air transport policy on the basis of a few weeks’ operations on the Dublin-Luton route.”

Mr Mitchell’s letter added that he would “not be pressurised into premature decisions by expensive PR campaigns” by Ryanair and that it is his intention to review the situation in some months’ time in light of the airline’s performance.

“There is no way that I could allow your company to operate jet aircraft on the Dublin-Luton route and at the same time seek to inhibit the intensive further competition from the existing carriers which would undoubtedly follow,” he wrote.

Mr Mitchell’s letter added that while the ultimate consequences of a “free-for-all” could not be forecast, it was his view that it would cause “serious damage to the future viability of our air and sea transport companies, including possibly your own”.

“It could . . . lead to a frenetic game of leap-frog into oblivion, with much damage done meantime to the other companies.”

Ryanair carried 82,000 passengers in 1986, its first full year in operation.

It eventually acquired its first jet aircraft in 1987, leasing three BAC1-11s from the Romanian state airline Tarom.