The chief executive of Ryanair has accused the UK government of mismanaging the Covid-19 crisis, as the airline halved its passenger forecast for this year and revealed it had tapped Britain’s corporate loan programme.
Michael O’Leary described the UK’s planned introduction of a 14-day quarantine period for travellers arriving from abroad as “idiotic and unimplementable”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is the same government that has … mismanaged the crisis for many weeks.” He said the UK was “making this stuff up as they go along”, referring to its transport policy. O’Leary added that face masks were essential for people travelling on mass transport.
Ryanair said it had one of the strongest balance sheets in the industry with cash of €4.1bn (£3.7bn), after recently raising £600m under the UK’s Covid corporate financing facility, which was set up by the Treasury and the Bank of England to help large businesses weather the crisis.
O’Leary spoke as the airline, Europe’s largest, published a €1bn profit for the year to 31 March, up from €885m the previous year. It said the pandemic had cost it €40m in lost profits, after travel restrictions in Europe forced it to ground almost its entire fleet.
The Irish carrier forecast a loss of more than €200m for the first quarter, followed by a smaller loss in the second quarter. It expects to carry fewer than 80 million passengers this year, almost half its original 154 million target.
Ryanair also described the more than €30bn in state aid received by Germany’s Lufthansa, the Franco-Dutch carrier Air France-KLM, Alitalia, Tui, SAS, Norwegian and others as “unlawful”, arguing that it breached EU state aid and competition rules.
The firm expects “significant price discounting and below-cost selling from these flag carriers with huge state aid war chests” on reduced flight routes once flights resume.
Ryanair is considering base closures, cutting 3,000 jobs – mainly pilots and cabin crew – and reducing pay by 20%. The measures are under way, including discussions with unions. O’Leary said the airline would look first at loss-making bases in the UK, Germany and Spain for closure.
Ryanair intends to restart 40% of its flights in July, operating almost 1,000 a day, but it expects to carry no more than half of its original target of 44.6 million passengers between July and September.
Bookings will be affected by public health restrictions – temperature checks at airports and face coverings for passengers and staff – and quarantine requirements.