Ryanair boss: airline industry needs a recession

The recession could lead to just four European airlines surviving, the boss of budget carrier Ryanair predicted today.

As many as five to six European airlines could go bankrupt between now and Christmas, added Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary.

And eventually just British Airways, German carrier Lufthansa, Air France and Ryanair will survive, he forecast.

Mr O'Leary said that Europe "needed a recession" as an economic downturn got rid of loss-making airlines and made aircraft purchasing cheaper.

He also held out the hope of a new transatlantic low-cost operation within about two to three years with economy fares of just £10 but stressed that this would not be operated by Ryanair and would be a completely separate company.

Mr O'Leary was speaking in London as Ryanair reported half-year profits of £170m for the six months to September 30 - a dip in profits of 47 per cent.

The Irish carrier said it expected to make losses over the next six months but said that average fares would dip by between 15 per cent and 20 per cent.

Mr O'Leary said today that Ryanair had completed a "remarkable performance" over the last few months and that passenger numbers were up 18 per cent in October 2008 compared with October 2007.

He said: "We need a recession. We have had 10 years of growth. A recession gets rid of crappy loss-making airlines and it means we can buy aircraft more cheaply.

"We think interest rates should stay high and politicians should let the economy right itself normally."

He said he thought the recession would be "deep and dark" and could last for 18 months.

Asked about a low-cost transatlantic operation, Mr O'Leary said that it could come about if Ryanair was able to buy around 50-60 long-haul aircraft.

He went on: "We would not have any links with the company that would run this apart from the fact that we would envisage flights being made across the Atlantic from some of our European bases.

"We are not going to be a transatlantic airline ourselves. We never will."

He added that the transatlantic operation would fly into secondary airports in America.

For example at New York, flights would go not into John F Kennedy International but possibly into nearby Newark.

Mr O'Leary said that the transatlantic operation could see four to five aircraft based at eight to 10 European bases including London, Dublin, Rome and Frankfurt. With destinations flown to including Los Angeles, Florida and Denver in Colorado.

While economy fares could possibly be as low as £10, one-way business class fares would be around £1,000.