Ryanair offers staff 'chance to benefit from low share price'

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Ryanair yesterday announced a new employee share options plan worth €16m (£11m). The no-frills carrier intends to issue 4 million share options to its 2,000 permanent employees at a strike price of €4.41.

The company, which has 2,300 employees, said it would award staff with options over shares worth 20 per cent salary. They can exercise options from June 2009.

Michael O'Leary, the chief executive, said the airline was taking advantage of the turbulent conditions in the low-cost airlines market to issue options at a relatively low strike price.

"This new scheme reflects the current low share price and allows our people to share in future increases of the share price," he said.

Shares in Ryanair, which issued its first profit warning earlier this year, were trading at more than €7 in January. The group's shares slipped 2 cents to €4.49 yesterday.

Mr O'Leary, who recently warned of an imminent "bloodbath" among budget airlines, yesterday reiterated his caution. "We expect the very tough trading conditions to continue and be particularly difficult this coming winter," he said.

Yesterday was the second time Ryanair has issued shares to staff since it floated in 1997. In the past seven years it has granted more than 30 million shares at a value of more than €130m.

Mr O'Leary said: "Ryanair continues to demonstrate its commitment to its people by providing rewarding careers with industry leading pay and conditions - this latest update to the staff share scheme is just the latest confirmation of our policy."

Earlier this week Ryanair announced plans to launch its first route to eastern Europe. It will offer flights to Riga, Latvia from three European hubs, including London Stansted from the end of October.

Shares in Ryanair, which have fallen by 32 per cent this year, closed down 1 per cent at €4.50 in Dublin.

The company is due to report its first-quarter earnings on Tuesday.