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Ryanair profits at record high and aims to double short-haul European flight numbers

  • @lucytobin

Ryanair wants to more than double its share of the European short-haul market to 20 per cent in the next five years

The target was revealed as the budget carrier brushed off higher fuel costs to post a record annual profit of €569 million.

The carrier wants to take customers from "legacy" rivals such as British Airways, Lufthansa and Iberia and grow its passenger numbers by more than 50 million a year by 2018. It has about 12 per cent of Europe's short-haul traffic now.

Ryanair's post-tax profit surged 13 per cent in the year to April, with revenues growing by the same amount to €4.9 billion. That was despite the carrier's fuel bill jumping by more than €290 million and now accounting for 45 per cent of costs.

Much of the growth was fuelled by passengers spending more on 'extras'. Ryanair's ancillary revenues burst beyond the €1 billion mark thanks to more fliers spending £10 to reserve a seat, £15 to travel with a suitcase, plus splashing out onboard on £2 scratch cards or food and drink.

Passenger spending on those extras rose 20 per cent, four times the rate of Ryanair's increase in flier numbers, which grew 5 per cent to 79.3 million.

In response, shares in Europe's biggest budget airline jumped by more than 6 per cent or 40.3 cents to a record high of €6.76.

Ryanair launched 217 new routes during the year, taking its total to 1600 and the airline, already the biggest in Ireland and Spain, has also taken over Alitalia and LOT to become the largest carrier in Italy and Poland respectively. 

Although the airline said that profits for the coming financial year could be flat at €570 million, or would at most rise 5 per cent to €600 million, chief executive Michael O'Leary hinted at a more positive outlook for European demand, with plans to ground fewer winter aircraft.

He added: "We expect modest yield and traffic growth for the full year to be partly offset by higher oil and Eurocontrol [European air traffic control] costs, resulting in another year of profit."

In March, Ryanair bought 175 planes from Boeing, which over the next five years will take its fleet to 400 jets. But its major expansion plans via a third offer to buy Aer Lingus were rejected by the European Commission in February.

O'Leary, who plans to appeal the decision, is still angry. "It is bizarre the EU can wave through British Airways' offer for British Midland... yet months later reject Ryanair's offer for Aer Lingus," he said. "This was another politically motivated decision by Europe's competition authority."

The airline boss also attacked the UK Competition Commission's "even more bizarre regulatory inquiry" and demanded its "spurious and time wasting" inquiry into Ryanair's minority stake in Aer Lingus, which it has held for six-and-a-half years, be "abandoned".