Ryanair expects a record loss of close to €1 billion in the year to March 31 before what the airline's chief executive, Michael O'Leary, said will be a "dramatic recovery" later in 2021 thanks to COVID-19 vaccination programmes.
The low-cost airline forecast a loss of between €850 million and €950 million for its current financial year, which is approximately five times larger than its previous record loss in 2009.
But O'Leary told an investor call that bookings will "snap back very strongly" once confidence grows in the roll-out of vaccines across the European Union.
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"I would be reasonably confident...that we will see a return to relatively high-volume travel in that key July, August, September quarter," he said.
Traffic is likely to be 20% to 25% of pre-pandemic levels between April and June, rising to 50% to 70% between July and September, depending on the success of the European Union's vaccine programme, O'Leary said, with winter traffic potentially at 75% to 100%.
"We are somewhat in the lap of the gods," he acknowledged, adding that the airline could carry between 80 million and 120 million passengers in the coming financial year, compared with the 150 million that it carried in the year before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Ryanair is widely seen as one of the best-placed airlines to weather the COVID-19 crisis thanks to its large cash balance and lack of long-haul and business-class flights.
It said that it had cash on hand of €3.5 billion at the end of December, compared with €4.5 billion at the end of September, and O'Leary said that he does not currently see any scenario in which it will need to raise more cash this year.
The airline will move very quickly to exploit opportunities created by the retrenchment of rivals, including in Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain, he said.
"I would be prepared to grow aggressively in the winter of 2021, even on lower air fares," he said.
COVID-19 restrictions slashed Ryanair passenger numbers by 78% in the last three months of 2020, pushing it to a third quarter loss of €306 million.
Expected Date Of First 737 MAX Delivery
Ryanair said that it expects its first delivery of Boeing's 737 MAX in March, with at least 24 of the 210 that it has on order arriving in time for its peak summer season. The 737 MAX was cleared to return to service late last year, having been grounded globally in March of 2019 following deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.