A Ryanair aeroplane prepares to land at Dublin airport in Dublin, Ireland September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
A Ryanair aeroplane prepares to land at Dublin airport in Dublin, Ireland. Michael O'Leary, its chief, seemed unusually rattled at the carrier's recent AGM. Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Is Ryanair's rocket-fuelled growth about to fizzle out?



At his recent AGM in Dublin, Michael O’Leary, generally known as the “feisty boss” of Ryanair, raced through his slide presentation with unaccustomed speed.

It was a familiar picture: Europe's favourite airline; lowest cost; cheapest fares (average €41, or Dh178); 131 million passengers in 2017, double the figure of five years ago; 87 bases; 200 airports; 240 aircraft on order, and so on.

"Next slide," he snapped before anyone could ask any questions. Normally he welcomes them as an opportunity to vent some of his passionate dislikes (the Irish government, Brexit, and even – or rather particularly – his own passengers, more or less in that order). But not this year. It should have been, as he complained afterwards, “a day of celebration”. The shares have risen more than 30 per cent this year and profits are up 43 per cent to €1.5 billion, with more to come. But it wasn’t.

Mr O’Leary, perhaps for the first time in his business life, has been put on to the back foot by the developing controversy over his decision to cancel 2,000 flights, basically to help the others get back on time. As he keeps pointing out, this is only 2 per cent of Ryanair’s schedule, but that doesn’t help those stranded overseas or encourage confidence in the others.

This is not quite a Willie Walsh moment, but it is heading that way – and may actually signal something more serious than BA’s computer break-down and its chief Mr Walsh’s clumsy response. Despite its superb financial performance, aviation experts are suddenly questioning whether Ryanair’s meteoric growth may have outgrown even Mr O’Leary’s capacity to control it.

Ryanair is a great story, a legend not just in Ireland but in the annals of aviation, which Mr O’Leary tells very well. The low-cost airline now carries more international passengers than any other airline, and has just moved up to fourth in the world rankings for total traffic, after the US biggies, American, Delta and Southwest, which are basically domestic carriers. Its market value is US$22bn, more than IAG, which has been around since air travel began, and nearly twice that of EasyJet. Mr O’Leary can take credit for creating a bigger company than Michael Smurfitt, Denis O’Brien and Tony O’Reilly, three legends of Irish business, did between them. No Irishman has achieved more.

And yet, for all his successes and accolades, his current problems have rattled even his habitual air of aggression and self-confidence – as shareholders witnessed at the AGM. Most airlines run short of passengers. Ryanair has run short of pilots. It has more than 2,000 of them, working longer hours, making more flights for less money than their counter-parts in the more traditional airlines. Any complaints are dismissed by Mr O’Leary with his habitual string of epithets and the accusation that in the digital age they are no more than glorified coach drivers (which actually has an element of truth). Inconveniently, however, even coach drivers are entitled to holidays, and there’s the rub.

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The low-cost airline season used to be seasonal, which meant holidays could be taken when there weren’t so many passengers in the air. Now the season starts earlier and earlier and from April on, Ryanair is flying 10 million to 11 million passengers a month – which doesn’t allow for holidays. The recruitment and training of pilots (who pay Ryanair $50,000 for the privilege of qualifying to fly its 737s) has not kept pace with growth and more sympathetic airlines, notably the Gatwick-based carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle, are poaching them by the day. Reports last week suggested that 700 pilots have left since January, 140 of whom have gone to Norwegian, EasyJet, BA, or carriers in the Middle East and China – anywhere where the pay and conditions are better and they are treated with a little more respect. And maybe even take their holidays.

Hence the crisis for which, having rattled through all the good news, Mr O’Leary actually apologised to shareholders for. To give him his due, he doesn’t blame the pilots. The cancellations, he admitted, were due to a "significant management failure in our rostering department” and the cancellations were handled with BA-like clumsiness.

Mr O’Leary has lived with the problems of unhappy pilots and disgruntled passengers for years and they are meat and drink to him. His reputation, and that of Ryanair, is founded on his rudeness, which passengers were prepared to put up with it in return for ridiculously low fares and faithful time-keeping. Last year he changed tactics and decided to be nice, but only to passengers – niceness doesn’t include pilots. It was wearing thin at the AGM too and with journalists afterwards. He has a lot on his mind just now.

Aviation experts are pointing to a major restructuring of Europe's low-cost aviation sector, brought on by the failure of both Air Berlin and Alitalia. Mr O'Leary has made no secret of his hopes of picking up some the routes to be vacated and aviation experts have been reported in Handelsblatt and other newspapers speculating that the Ryanair cancellations are being used by the Irish airline to free up crew capacity so that it is in a position to take over Air Berlin routes.

In fact it probably represents something much more fundamental than that. The cancellation problems have exposed deep flaws in Ryanair’s management structure and it may be that the days of spectacular growth are coming to an end.

Just as Ryanair, as a nimble-footed and hungry newcomer, basically killed off Aer Lingus and made mince-meat of BA, it has now become the giant carcass for the new low-cost airlines, such as Norwegian – and even BA - to feed off.

Kanye West

Ye — the rapper formerly known as Kanye West — has seen his net worth fall to $400 million in recent weeks. That’s a precipitous drop from Bloomberg’s estimates of $6.8 billion at the end of 2021.
Ye’s wealth plunged after business partners, including Adidas, severed ties with him on the back of anti-Semitic remarks earlier this year.
West’s present net worth derives from cash, his music, real estate and a stake in former wife Kim Kardashian’s shapewear firm, Skims.

PROFILE OF HALAN

Started: November 2017

Founders: Mounir Nakhla, Ahmed Mohsen and Mohamed Aboulnaga

Based: Cairo, Egypt

Sector: transport and logistics

Size: 150+ employees

Investment: approximately $8 million

Investors include: Singapore’s Battery Road Digital Holdings, Egypt’s Algebra Ventures, Uber co-founder and former CTO Oscar Salazar

Herc's Adventures

Developer: Big Ape Productions
Publisher: LucasArts
Console: PlayStation 1 & 5, Sega Saturn
Rating: 4/5

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Haltia.ai
Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Almouneer
Started: 2017
Founders: Dr Noha Khater and Rania Kadry
Based: Egypt
Number of staff: 120
Investment: Bootstrapped, with support from Insead and Egyptian government, seed round of
$3.6 million led by Global Ventures

The five pillars of Islam

1. Fasting

2. Prayer

3. Hajj

4. Shahada

5. Zakat 

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

Three ways to limit your social media use

Clinical psychologist, Dr Saliha Afridi at The Lighthouse Arabia suggests three easy things you can do every day to cut back on the time you spend online.

1. Put the social media app in a folder on the second or third screen of your phone so it has to remain a conscious decision to open, rather than something your fingers gravitate towards without consideration.

2. Schedule a time to use social media instead of consistently throughout the day. I recommend setting aside certain times of the day or week when you upload pictures or share information. 

3. Take a mental snapshot rather than a photo on your phone. Instead of sharing it with your social world, try to absorb the moment, connect with your feeling, experience the moment with all five of your senses. You will have a memory of that moment more vividly and for far longer than if you take a picture of it.

ROUTE TO TITLE

Round 1: Beat Leolia Jeanjean 6-1, 6-2
Round 2: Beat Naomi Osaka 7-6, 1-6, 7-5
Round 3: Beat Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-2
Round 4: Beat Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-0
Quarter-final: Beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2
Semi-final: Beat Coco Gauff 6-2, 6-4
Final: Beat Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-2