Ryanair to site new base at Liverpool

Ryanair is to announce Liverpool as a new base next week, and is in talks on establishing routes with more than 100 new airports.

The low-cost airline announced the launch of four new routes yesterday as its battle with easyJet for customers in the low-cost travel market continued. The news came as it emerged that Tony Ryan, who founded the airline in 1985, had sold half his remaining stake in Ryanair, cashing in a further €25m (£18m).

Three daily routes are planned for next year from London Stansted to the Czech Republic, Spain and Poland. Aservice from London Gatwick to Knock in Ireland is also set to start. The airline is increasing the number of daily flights on existing routes from London Stansted to Cork and Shannon in Ireland.

Michael O'Leary, the chief executive, said the new routes were designed to challenge easyJet, which announced two months ago it would go head-to-head with Ryanair on its home turf, with direct services from London's Gatwick to Irish cities. "EasyJet can never match Ryanair's low fares, our high frequencies and our punctuality or customer service," he said.

But it plans to exit some of its less profitable routes, with three withdrawals to be announced.

Mr Ryan sold 5 million shares in the airline for €5 apiece and now owns about 0.5 per cent of the company. He and his family have made more than €400m from selling Ryanair shares since 1997. Mr O'Leary said yesterday that he was not planning to sell his any of his stock "at these prices".

He said market conditions were improving because of lower fuel prices and the weak dollar. But he is still predicting a bloodbath in no-frills carriers this winter as fares continue to fall.