Recent Covid-19 lockdowns mean Ryanair will fly fewer passengers than planned this winter, but vaccines should mean a "very impressive" summer and a return to pre-pandemic passenger numbers by autumn, its group chief executive Michael O'Leary said today. 

Europe's biggest low-cost airline expects to fly just 30% of pre-pandemic capacity during its Christmas season this year.

But that should climb to 60-80% from the spring as the first Covid-19 vaccines are rolled out.

"By the time we get to the end of the summer into winter 2021 we expect to be back to pretty much close to all of our 2019 schedules," Michael O'Leary said in an interview with Reuters. 

"We've got to get our hotels, restaurants, tourist facilities, beaches open for summer '21 because I think the numbers will be very impressive as people holiday within Europe rather than going longer haul next summer," Michael O'Leary said. 

He called for support from European governments, in particular in scrapping passenger taxes and allowing pre-departure Covid-19 testing to replace quarantines for more travellers. 

The UK this week announced plans to allow travellers from countries with high levels of Covid-19 to end their quarantine on receipt of a negative test taken at least five days after arrival.

This was an improvement from an earlier 14-day quarantine. 

But Michael O'Leary dismissed the move as a "fig leaf", saying travel would only take off once quarantines were dropped. 

He said he saw no risk that travellers within the European Union might be required to show proof they had received a vaccine, due to EU free-movement rights. 

Australia's Qantas said today that international travellers should have a Covid-19 vaccination before they fly. 

"I doubt it will be applicable to short-haul," Michael O'Leary said. 

Ryanair said earlier this month it expected to fly 38 million passengers in its financial year to March 31. That is now likely to fall to "the mid-30s", O'Leary said.
 

In the following year, the airline could fly anywhere between 80 million and 130 million passengers, depending on how the roll-out of vaccines progress, he said.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of Ryanair, Eddie Wilson, has said that bookings for travel in December have increased.

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Speaking on RTE's News at One programme, Mr Wilson said the pent-up demand to travel at Christmas is being seen by the airline.

He confirmed that the airline has put on extra flights from Ireland and elsewhere for December, saying that bookings are increasing as some European lockdowns are lifted.

He said that the EU traffic light system is in place to ensure free movement of people and that if people adhere to the traffic light system for testing, travel can happen safely.

However, Mr Wilson said he does not expect a more full return to international travel until next spring or summer when a vaccine becomes available. 

He said it is a reasonable assumption to say people will be vaccinated before travelling next year and that Ryanair has kept all crews and aircraft current in anticipation of that. 

Meanwhile, Ryanair hopes to place additional orders for Boeing's freshly approved 737 MAX in talks that are set to conclude late this year or in early 2021, Michael O'Leary also said today. 

"I think it is important for Boeing to announce some customer orders and we would certainly be very keen to be at the front of the queue because the MAX 200 is a great aircraft," Mr O'Leary said, referring to the 197-seat variant of the plane. 

Asked whether the orders would be in addition to the 135 firm orders and 75 options that Ryanair currently has for the MAX 200, he said he could not comment because the talks were confidential.