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Ryanair passenger numbers up 10% - but Brexit a concern

By John Mulgrew

Ryanair has grown its passenger numbers to 9.4m for March - up 10% on the period a year earlier. However, the low-cost airline's load factor - the percentage of seats filled on each aircraft - remained flat.

Just last month Ryanair suggested it could double the number of flights from Belfast if air passenger duty was abolished.

But Kenny Jacobs, the airline's chief marketing officer, said uncertainty around the future of the Open Skies policy following Brexit could hit the company's expansion plans.

Speaking about the latest passenger numbers, Mr Jacobs said: "Ryanair's March traffic grew by 10% to 9.4m customers, while our load factor was unchanged from last year at 94%, on the back of lower fares and the continuing success of our Always Getting Better customer experience programme.

"Our rolling annual traffic reached 120m. March traffic was also impacted by the cancellation of over 530 flights due to repeated air traffic control and some handling strikes, which cut traffic by approximately 100,000 customers."

Last week Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary revealed that flights to and from the UK could be cancelled in the weeks immediately after Brexit.

Mr O'Leary said he didn't know what the UK's divorce from the EU will mean for the airline industry.

He explained that the UK was planning to leave the Open Skies arrangement as part of Brexit, and he claimed this will mean it will need to negotiate bilateral arrangements with European partners within the next two years.

"I think the Europeans are looking around and saying: 'How do we teach the British a lesson? Maybe cutting off flights for three months after March 2019 he will begin to understand what is going on'," he said.

"Explaining passporting of financial services doesn't appeal to the guy in Hull or Grimsby or in Leicester. That he can't go on holiday to Spain, now he begins to understand the risk.

"That there will not be flights to and from the UK for a couple of months or a couple of weeks after March 2019 is one of the ways that you demonstrate to Joe Public that this is what is happening."

He previously said Ryanair was cutting expansion due to Brexit.

As for air passenger duty, Mr Jacobs, speaking as the airline announced its winter schedule from Belfast last month, said a cut was essential.

"I would urge Stormont to do the same (as Scotland) and grow tourism," he said.

Mr Jacobs claimed City of Derry Airport "was the best example of an airport impacted by the travel tax".

Mr O'Leary has already warned that the remaining three domestic flights from Derry could be moved to Belfast unless there is a cut in APD.

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