Airways are going through their worst disaster in a era and Michael O’Leary is in no temper to waste it. As rivals have collapsed and retreated, the Ryanair chief government is on the hunt for alternatives to extend the Irish airline’s dominance of European airspace.

“I’ve by no means in my 30 years within the trade seen such a clean-out,” Mr O’Leary advised the Monetary Instances in an interview. “The actual seismic change from Covid would be the development alternatives throughout Europe. They’re much higher than after the monetary disaster or 9/11.”

Airline capability has been gutted in the course of the pandemic, making a window for survivors to fill the gaps as soon as individuals begin flying once more. Thomas Cook dinner and Flybe have collapsed whereas Norwegian — till not too long ago an enormous operator within the European market — has entered administration.

Mr O’Leary predicted that 100m of his rivals’ seats could be taken out over the subsequent 18 months, round a 15 per cent discount on regular passenger visitors.

“Someone has to step up and take that capability” he stated, including that he was in discussions with airports in Italy and Spain, which had been Norwegian prospects, about filling these slots with Ryanair planes.

Stacked column chart showing Ryanair becoming Europe's largest airline by numbers of seats

Mr O’Leary has cultivated a popularity for outlandish claims as he has overseen greater than 20 years of close to steady development at Ryanair, primarily based on slashing prices and maximising efficiencies to undercut rivals and take their passengers.

However low-cost carriers are broadly anticipated to guide the restoration in flying as a result of the short-haul and leisure markets they serve will rebound quicker than intercontinental and enterprise journey.

Conventional flag carriers, similar to British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa, depend on utilizing their short-haul networks to feed passengers into their hubs and on to long-haul flights.

“The form of the demand restoration favours airways uncovered to short-haul leisure visitors,” stated Daniel Roeska, aviation analyst at Bernstein.

Or, as Mr O’Leary put it: “Everybody who has been trapped and gone on vacation to Bognor Regis will need to go to Portugal, Italy and Greece.”

Predictably, an government who has traditionally used trade downturns to cut his own costs is driving a tough cut price. “The query is which airports are most business about regrowing their visitors rapidly in summer season 2021,” he stated.

London Stansted was “throughout us” when UK rival easyJet introduced it will shut its base there, he added. Ryanair hoovered up greater than 300 of easyJet’s weekly slots on the airport for subsequent summer season.

Nonetheless, the preliminary impression of the pandemic on Ryanair has been bruising. It expects to carry just 38m passengers this year, a fifth of 2019’s quantity, and suffered a internet lack of €197m for the six months to September. Losses within the second half of its monetary yr are anticipated to be higher, particularly after the recent wave of flight cancellations this week, as nations closed their borders to the UK over issues of a brand new pressure of the virus.

Line chart of Change in share price this year (%) showing Investors bet on low-cost carriers leading the recovery

The newest uncertainty got here as a blow to an trade hopeful that an uptick in journey over Christmas may provide some a lot wanted money in the course of the lean winter months.

Regardless of this, Andrew Lobbenberg, head of airways analysis at HSBC, agreed there was a chance for Ryanair to develop as flag-carriers misplaced out on long-haul flights and weaker rivals disappeared.

The Irish provider has additionally signalled its ambition by confirming a reduced order for Boeing’s troubled 737 Max aircraft, which is able to lower its prices additional when it begins taking deliveries from early subsequent yr.

However Mr Lobbenberg cautioned that any growth was not “going to be quick. Every thing is gradual and more and more it’s laborious to anticipate the tempo of it”.

Whereas easyJet is thought to be having taken a extra conservative method to the disaster, Hungarian low-cost provider Wizz Air has promised to tackle Ryanair because it expands out of its jap European heartlands to turn out to be a regional participant.

Dirk-Maarten Molenaar, a companion at Boston Consulting Group, stated legacy carriers had been additionally turning into extra versatile and the “final thing” firms similar to BA wished to do was make important cuts to the short-haul networks they should feed into their hubs.

Regardless of the current pressures, Ryanair’s share value is larger than it was a yr in the past — and has risen by a couple of quarter for the reason that begin of November — as traders have been inspired that the rollout of Covid vaccines would gasoline a restoration.

Mr O’Leary stated there had been a “noticeable however single-digit” uplift in bookings over the previous month, however from a “very, very low base”.

He conceded that his plans had been depending on the swift rollout of vaccines by the governments he often savages for incompetence and inefficiency. “They are going to mess about however in the end they are going to throw a lot cash on the vaccine they are going to get there,” he stated of the UK authorities.

Ryanair has a “working assumption” that it’ll fly between 90m and 130m passengers within the yr to March 2022, a large unfold primarily based on how rapidly the demand for journey returns. It’s properly beneath 2019’s practically 150m passengers, a quantity the chief government didn’t see returning till no less than 2023.

“We now have constantly been planning for a fairly fast restoration and consistently disenchanted, what has modified is the vaccines are arriving,” stated Mr O’Leary. “The problem for our trade is, is that restoration in Could or August? We simply don’t know.”