Ryanair said it would be the beneficiary of the looming economic shocks as it launched its biggest UK winter schedule while predicting short-haul aviation would not return to pre-Covid levels until 2025 .
Chief executive Michael O’Leary said his airline was set to overtake easyJet as the UK’s biggest carrier after expanding operations this summer, and would “strengthen in a recession. “.
He said airfares would continue to rise by 3-5% in the coming years and the lowest fares could be a thing of the past. “The era of low fares is not over, but £9.99 fares, really cheap and cheerful fares, have been over for a few years.”
But he argued rivals would suffer more if customers tightened their belts, with rising energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine fueling high inflation.
Speaking at a press conference in London, O’Leary said: “Consumer price inflation will be nothing compared to the energy shock coming this winter. With each slowdown in consumption, we grow faster. What we’re seeing is a lot more people going to the lowest fare operator, like Ryanair.
“The question is how are you going to be able to afford to fly BA or Lufthansa. We will get stronger in a recession.
The Ryanair boss said: “I think the overall market will not return in 2023, 2024 to pre-Covid traffic levels. They will likely lag behind.
“You’d be crazy not to worry about a looming recession and energy challenges, but at Ryanair we’re heading into winter with a fortuitous situation.”
He said Ryanair had hedged most of its fuel for this year at $63 to $64 (£54 to £55) a barrel, allowing it to cut costs. It has added 21 new routes from the UK for the winter, with more pilots joining as more of its “gamechanger” Boeing 737 Max planes are delivered, despite production delays in Seattle.
O’Leary added: “I’ve never tempered a growth plan in my life – it’s full steam ahead.”
He said Ryanair would continue to grow, with a target of 225 million passengers in 2026, around a third more than forecast for this year. He said the airline’s reliability, with the fewest cancellations among major carriers this summer, just 3%, was being rewarded by record passenger growth. Ryanair was now “one of the few airlines in Europe to negotiate with airports” to add capacity, he said.
He said: “People won’t stop stealing. They have to fly to work, to see family, and many have been locked up for two years… People are on the move again. We are about to be the beneficiaries.