Ryanair has nudged up its passenger target for the autumn amid signs of a "very strong recovery" in European short-haul flights, chief executive Michael O'Leary has told Reuters in an interview.
The Irish airline, which is Europe's largest airline by passenger numbers, is expected to fly 10.5 million passengers per month in September, October and November, O'Leary said.
That compares with a July forecast of an average of 10 million for each of those months.
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"As long as there are no adverse COVID developments, things are set fair for a very strong recovery," O'Leary said ahead of a press briefing in Brussels.
The CEO also said that Ryanair was on target to exceed its 10.5 million passenger target for August.
Capacity should return to pre-pandemic levels in October, from close to 90% in September and 80% in August, he added. But the airline is likely to fly with an average of 15-20% empty seats on planes this winter compared with 7-8% before the pandemic.
"Through the winter, pricing will continue to build, but it will still be below (pre-)COVID," he said. "We don't expect pricing to go back to pre-COVID levels until the summer of 2022."
Downbeat On Prospects For British Airways Gatwick Revamp
O'Leary gave a downbeat assessment of the short-haul subsidiary British Airways may create, questioning in particular its choice of London's Gatwick airport as a hub.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that British Airways, which is owned by London-listed International Airlines Group (IAG), was considering folding its short-haul operations at Gatwick into a new unit. The company said it was working on options for the operations to curb costs, but did not specify what its proposals were.
O'Leary, speaking in Brussels on Tuesday to announce the launch of new winter routes from Belgium, told a news conference he did not hold out much hope for what he described as British Airways' umpteenth go at creating a low-cost carrier.
"If you were going to open up a low-cost carrier, the one airport in London you wouldn't go to would be Gatwick," he said, adding it was London's second most expensive airport.
"If you're going to open up a low-cost carrier, you'd go to Stansted or Luton or Southend, which has lots of cheap, low-cost and underused facilities," he said.
O'Leary said that the company would fare better pocketing a lot of money by selling Gatwick slots to the likes of Wizz Air or easyJet.
Ryanair Pressures Boeing On 737 MAX Price; Says 2021 Order Unlikely
Ryanair does not expect to do a deal with Boeing this year on a major new order of 737 MAX jets, O'Leary said on, but added that he could order up to 250 of the aircraft if the price was lowered.
Ryanair is already the largest European customer for the 737 MAX, with 210 firm orders of the 197-seat MAX 8-200 model. In July it said it might do a deal before the end of the year for a significant order of the 230-seat MAX 10.
But O'Leary told journalists this week that he would be surprised if agreement was reached before next year.
"I would be hopeful that agreement might be reached in 2022. I mean the rate and pace of negotiation depends on Boeing," O'Leary told a press briefing in London. "At the moment I think the balance lies in favour of us because Boeing have recorded remarkably few orders for the aircraft, and they need a couple of large Max 10 orders."
A large order from Ryanair would provide a major boost to US plane maker Boeing and its MAX, which was grounded for 20 months, up to last November, after two fatal crashes.
European arch-rival Airbus closed a deal with Britain's Jet2 on Tuesday for 36 A321 neo aircraft worth about $4.9 billion in a blow to Boeing, which has supplied the airline in the past.
In the past, he had indicated that that order would be on a similar scale to the 210 jet MAX 8-200 order. But this week he said that he could take up to 250 of the MAX 10.
"In an ideal world...if we can agree on pricing, I would certainly like to see Ryanair continue to grow and expand at the rate of about 50 aircraft a year." he said. "So over a four or five-year period we should be looking at 200-250 aircraft."
News by Reuters, edited by Hospitality Ireland. Click subscribe to sign up for the Hospitality Ireland print edition.
Ryanair Announces Its Schedule To And From London For Winter 2021
In other Ryanair news, the airline has announced its schedule to and from London for the winter of 2021.
In a statement published on corporate.ryanair.com, Ryanair said that it has "announced its winter 2021 schedule for its three London airports - Stansted, Luton and Gatwick - opening 14 new routes (142 in total) - connecting London to more exciting European destinations from October. As travel recovers to pre-COVID levels, Ryanair’s growth continues to lead traffic, tourism recovery and jobs in the UK. Ryanair will create over 500 new jobs for pilots, cabin crew and engineers at its London airports as it gears up for more growth in S2022."
|Ryanair's new London winter 2021 routes:|
|Stansted to:||Luton to:|
|Oradea (Rom)||Gran Canaria|
In a statement also published on corporate.ryanair.com, O'Leary said, "Ryanair is committed to rebuilding the London’s tourism industry, jobs and connectivity as we grow across Europe and recover air travel to pre-COVID levels…we are delighted to announce these 14 new routes from our three London airports in Stansted, Luton and Gatwick. We will also create over 500 new jobs for pilots, cabin crew and engineers this winter at our London airports as we gear up for more fleet and route growth in S2022."
Article by Dave Simpson. Click subscribe to sign up for the Hospitality Ireland print edition.