Ryanair expects summer travel rebound after posting record €815m annual loss

Airline bookings triple as boss Michael O'Leary says past year 'most challenging' in budget carrier's 35-year history

A Ryanair flight from Manchester arrives at Faro Airport on the first day that Britons are allowed to enter Portugal without needing to quarantine. Ryanair said bookings have risen from 500,000 a week in early April to 1.5 million a week now. Reuters
A Ryanair flight from Manchester arrives at Faro Airport on the first day that Britons are allowed to enter Portugal without needing to quarantine. Ryanair said bookings have risen from 500,000 a week in early April to 1.5 million a week now. Reuters

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said he is seeing signs of a summer travel rebound as Europe’s largest budget carrier posted a record annual loss of €815 million ($989.22m).

Mr O’Leary said the airline had experience a “dramatic spring back in bookings” in recent weeks after the “most challenging" year in the company's 35-year history "collapsed" the business and caused an 81 per cent decline in traffic and revenue.

Mr O’Leary said there are signs the recovery has already started with bookings tripling from 500,000 a week in early April to 1.5 million a week now.

“The rate of bookings suggests there is a huge amount of confidence. We are very optimistic for the next couple of months,” Mr O'Leary said on Monday.

While Ryanair’s loss of €815m was better than the expected €834m it reflects how heavily the aviation sector has been hammered by the fallout of the pandemic, with planes grounded across the globe at the start of the crisis.

The airline's heavy loss came 12 months after it posted an annual profit of €1 billion for the previous financial year.

"It's better than we predicted, but still a fairly traumatic loss for an airline that has been consistently profitable for our 35-year history," Mr O'Leary said.

Ryanair flew 27.5 million passengers to the end of March, down from 149 million the previous year, with Mr O'Leary now predicting the airline to fly between 80 and 100 million in the year to March 31, 2022.

The airline is expected to only fly about 5-6 million passengers in its April-June quarter, usually one of its busiest.

Adam Vettese, analyst at multi-asset investment platform eToro, said a thin-margin budget airline such as Ryanair needs vast numbers of passengers to turn a profit.

“Ryanair's debt levels have soared 28 per cent to €5.4bn in the year to March 31 due to an 81 per cent fall in both revenue and passenger numbers,” said Mr Vettese.

The problem for Ryanair is that they need to drastically increase passenger numbers to pay back the debts they have piled on during the past 14 months.

Adam Vettese, eToro

“The problem for Ryanair – and indeed all carriers – is that they need to drastically increase passenger numbers in order to pay back the debts they have piled on during the past 14 months.”

While bookings have increased, the Dublin-based carrier said forward visibility remains “close to zero”, making it impossible to provide more meaningful financial guidance.

Mr O’Leary said he expects capacity on European routes to be materially lower for the foreseeable future, returning to pre-Covid growth in the summer of 2022.

With most European populations on track to be vaccinated by September, the airline is expecting a much stronger recovery in the second half of the current financial year from October to March, with Mr O’Leary dismissing concerns over the Indian variant of the virus as a "one- or two-week wonder" before everyone calms down.

From Monday, travellers in England, Scotland and Wales can travel to 12 countries on the government’s green list, including Portugal and Israel, without having to quarantine on their return.

Mr O'Leary said he is also in talks with airports in Italy, Spain, Sweden and central and Eastern Europe about adding further flights.

Ryanair also reported additional delays in the delivery of its first Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, which it said may not arrive until after its peak summer period, but there was no indication the delay would have any impact on capacity.

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary said there is still 'a lot of uncertainty' ahead. AFP
Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary said there is still 'a lot of uncertainty' ahead. AFP

Should markets continue to open up, Ryanair expects to be operating at 60 per cent to 70 per cent of normal summer levels.

“For vaccinated Britons going to the beaches of Portugal, Spain and Greece, I think there is very little risk,” he said.

“Everybody is right to be cautious, but I think everybody can take their holiday in Europe with a high degree of confidence.”

Looking ahead, Mr O'Leary said the company is "looking at something between a very small loss and break-even for the next 12 months" but there is still "a lot of uncertainty".

"Most of the uncertainty revolves around the timing of the recovery and the fares that people will pay into the key June, July, August, September travel period," he said.

Mr Vettese said it could take until the middle of the decade "before the damage caused by the pandemic has been erased from balance sheets".

Published: May 17, 2021 03:50 PM

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