Belfast Telegraph

Ryanair winning battle of the skies

By Colm Kelpie and Michael Cogley

Ryanair is on course to overtake easyJet as the biggest airline in the UK this year buoyed on by its massive growth in Belfast, boss Michael O'Leary has said.

"We're neck and neck at the moment," the Ryanair chief executive said yesterday.

"As we open up the new base in Belfast, we're adding more aircraft this winter in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, and Stansted continues to grow strongly, we should overtake them by the end of this year."

Speaking about rivals easyJet here said: "I don't get too hung up on whether we overtake them or not. It's only a question of time, when we'll overtake them. It doesn't really make a lot of difference."

Ryanair says it could have 40 routes operating from Belfast International Airport and four million passengers.

It made a grand return to Belfast in March, launching its Gatwick route. A further seven routes followed, and there are now 11 locations it flies to from Belfast. Ryanair yesterday posted increased traffic of 9.9 million customers for April. The airline's load factor increased by two percentage points to 93% while its rolling annual traffic increased by 17% to 107.4 million customers.

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Mr O'Leary talked up the airline's planned use of Boeing's new aircraft, the 737 MAX 200, which he said "would transform" the airline's cost base.

The carrier has ordered 200 of the aircraft and they will enter service in 2019.

"They come with 4% more seats, therefore eight more seats per flight, and the new engine technology will reduce fuel consumption per passenger by about 18% or 19%," he said.

"Last year, fuel accounted for about 45% of our total cost, and if we can reduce that by a double-digit number, it means we're again getting closer and closer to my idea where we can lower our averages fares from €45 (£35) to €25 (£20), and double our traffic from 100 to 180, 200 million passengers."

Mr O'Leary said the attacks on Brussels in March continued to dampen demand for flying in Europe, though traffic was strong during the Easter holidays.

"The Brussels effect has dampened demand into April to May though funnily enough it did not create as much disruption over the Easter period, but I think that's because a lot of families had holidays booked," he said.

He said he hoped Brussels Zaventem airport, which was the subject of a terrorist attack in March, would be back to full capacity by June.

Meanwhile, Merrion Stockbrokers said Ryanair is to mount further pressure on Europe's biggest airline, Lufthansa, in the German market.

Lufthansa's yield suffered its biggest drop in four years in the first quarter of the year and now the Irish airline is set to pile on more pressure.

Merrion senior equity analyst Darren McKinley said despite Ryanair's business being hit by recent terrorist attacks, it does not face the same pricing concerns as Lufthansa.

"In fact, we would expect Ryanair's increasing presence in Germany to negatively impact pricing at Lufthansa anyway regardless of any terrorist related events," Mr McKinley said.

Belfast Telegraph