Beelzebub! Ryanair gives investors a devil of time

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The Independent Online

For those of a superstitious or nervous disposition, yesterday was not the day to invest in the no-frills airline Ryanair, nor to book one of its flights for that matter. Ryanair shares ended trading on the 6/6/06 at €6.66 - the number of the beast.

Appropriately, Michael O'Leary, the chief executive, was in his usual devilish form, taking pot shots at the Irish Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, the chief executive of BAA, Mike Clasper, low-cost airline rivals and even his own pilots.

He described Mr Ahern as "idiotic" and the Civil Aviation Authority as "moronic", and said when his well-paid pilots were not improving their golf handicap they were busy chasing women around foreign hotel rooms.

The tour de force came as Ryanair announced a record pre-tax profit last year of €339m (£234m), despite a 22 per cent drop in earnings in the fourth quarter due to rising fuel costs and the late timing of Easter.

Mr O'Leary said it was set to make a profit of almost £30m this year from its policy of charging passengers for hold luggage, and expects that figure to double to as much as £60m in future years.

Originally, Ryanair had said it expected the introduction of the £2.50 baggage charge to be revenue-neutral because passengers flying with only hand luggage would get cheaper fares.

But Mr O'Leary said yesterday the charge would contribute €1 for each of the 42 million passengers the airline expects to carry this year, rising to €2 after that.

Ryanair said it expects profits to rise a further 10 to 15 per cent this year assuming oil prices remain at $70 a barrel. It has hedged 90 per cent of its fuel requirements at that price through to October but is unhedged after that. Fuel costs last year leapt 74 per cent to €462.5m although, unlike its full-service rivals, Ryanair has resisted imposing a fuel surcharge.

Mr O'Leary said he expected Ryanair to add a further two bases to its existing 16 this year and was looking at seven possible locations in the UK, Spain, Germany and Italy. He added that Stansted, which accounts for 40 per cent of Ryanair's passengers, would decline significantly in importance over the next four to five years as the airline doubled in size, and would probably account for only 20 per cent of traffic by the end of the decade.

He backed the possible break-up of BAA but said it would make little difference to the level of charges there if BAA fell under Spanish or US ownership because of the "mindless, moronic" way in which the Civil Aviation Authority regulated airport charges.

Mr O'Leary said he hoped to introduce a system to allow passengers to use mobile phones on board aircraft by this time next year.

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