Ryanair has today reported a record annual loss and said it would at best break even in the coming year as it navigates huge uncertainty around the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions and how much travel-starved passengers will pay for summer flights.
Europe's largest discount airline said the pandemic had made the 12 months to the end of March the most challenging in its history, forcing it to slash capacity by 80% and shed 1,000 jobs.
And while it has seen a "dramatic springback in bookings" in recent weeks, it has almost zero visibility for the rest of the year, group chief executive Michael O'Leary said today.
"The likely outturn is that we are looking at something between a very small loss and break-even for the next 12 months but there are a lot of moving parts and there is a lot of uncertainty," Michael O'Leary said in a video presentation.
"Most of the uncertainty revolves around the timing of the recovery and the fares that people will pay into the key June, July, August, September travel period," he said.
The airline reported a record annual after-tax loss of €815m in its financial year to March 31, slightly better than the forecast loss of €834m in a company poll of analysts.
"It's better than we predicted, but still a fairly traumatic loss for an airline that has been consistently profitable for our 35-year history," Michael O'Leary said.
Ryanair flew 27.5 million passengers to the end of March down from 149 million the previous year.
Michael O'Leary said his current estimate is that the airline would fly between 80 and 100 million in the year to March 31, 2022.
The airline is likely to fly just 5-6 million passengers in its April-June quarter, usually one of its busiest times.
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The relaxation of travel restrictions in the UK has seen bookings triple in five weeks from 500,000 to 1.5 million per week, the CEO said.
Michael O'Leary also expressed confidence that the airline would come out of the pandemic with a significantly reduced cost base due to cuts in wages, more efficient new aircraft and lower airport costs.
The airline has in recent months secured extensions on low-cost growth deals with key bases London Stansted, Milan Bergamo and Brussels Charleroi, he said.
Ryanair 'upset' with Boeing, fears no MAX deliveries before summer
Ryanair fears it may not take delivery of its first 737 MAX aircraft until after its peak summer period and the airline is "quite upset with Boeing", Group Chief Executive Michael O'Leary said today.
But he said he believed the production issues would resolve in the medium term and said the Irish airline, was in talks with Boeing about a significant order of the larger, 230-seat, MAX 10 aircraft.
The largest European customer of the MAX with 210 firm orders of the 197-seat MAX200 model, Ryanair in late March said it expected that before summer it would take delivery of 16 of the aircraft, down from an earlier forecast of 40.
But Boeing is now promising the first delivery of the jet, which has been delayed in part due to a recent electrical grounding issue, in late May.
"We are now being told the first delivery will be in late May. I am not sure we necessarily believe that," O'Leary said in a pre-recorded presentation following the release of the company's full-year results.
"As the management team in Seattle continues to mismanage that process I think there is a real risk we might not see any of these aircraft in advance of summer 2021," he said.
Ryanair was initially due to take delivery of its first MAX two years ago before the jet was grounded for 20 months after two fatal crashes.
The airline has agreed "reasonable and fair" compensation for that delay, it said in its results statement today.
Ryanair is confident it will have 60 of the aircraft in place for the summer of 2022, he said.
Ryanair remains in talks with Boeing for a significant order of the larger MAX 10 aircraft, but "we are not quite there on price yet," Ryanair's chief financial officer Neil Sorahan said in an interview.
Asked how big such a deal would be, Sorahan said it would cover both fleet renewal and growth in the 2026 to 2030 period.
"We don't tend to do small deals," he said.
Shares in Ryanair reversed their earlier gains to stand lower in Dublin trade this afternoon.