Ryanair plans to expand as other carriers downsize, chief executive Michael O’Leary made clear on Monday, as he insisted “there are bright days ahead” despite the new lockdown.

O’Leary argued “there are reasons for optimism” as he reported a loss of €197 million for the six months to September – a sharp contrast to the billions in losses announced last week by British Airways owner IAG and Air France-KLM.

The Ryanair boss noted: “When the Canaries reopened two weeks ago, our daily target of 2,000 bookings a day was exceeded 14-fold – 28,000 the first day, 25,000 the second day. We were adding extra flights to the Canaries within 24 hours.

“The Canaries give an indication of the extent of pent-up demand. There is enormous desire to travel again. It will be reflected in a very strong travel pattern so long as there is a vaccine by the end of Q1 or Q2 [next year].”

O’Leary insisted: “The short‑haul snap back will be strong and immediate. The key issue is when there will be a vaccine available. We believe [there will be] by the end of Q1, at least for key workers and those most vulnerable. If there is a vaccine it will be a very strong summer.

“We expect to be able to operate 80% of capacity next summer. The earlier a vaccine is available, the higher that number will go.”

Despite the fresh lockdown, Ryanair intends to operate almost 40% of its 2019 capacity in November, as previously announced, and “slightly higher” for Christmas.

O’Leary said: “We don’t expect to cancel more flights from the UK.

There might be some judicious culling of capacity. We’ll manage it on a weekly basis. We’re down to skeleton flight levels in Europe. We don’t want to collapse that.

“Our utmost effort is to keep aircraft flying even if it is only one or two flights a day, to keep pilots and cabin crew flying so we can move quickly.

“There are people moving about, mainly for work.

“We’re not doing free travel, there is no point. We’re not dumping prices.”

He added: “A lot depends on how Christmas is, on whether European governments impose lockdowns. We would normally have a huge flow of cash coming in January-February, but the booking profile is very short term. We just have no idea what January will look like.”

However, O’Leary insisted: “Ryanair will emerge from this with a stronger cost base. We’re in extensive negotiations with airports on where we can return quickly. Airports that come with the best incentives will see traffic return quicker.

“A huge amount of capacity has been taken out and won’t return. We’ll fill those gaps. We’ll be opportunistic and entirely flexible.”

But he argued price levels would be more difficult to restore. O’Leary said: “Pricing in the recovery will be much stronger than we have seen previously.

“I listen to [those who say] ‘it will take two years, three years to recover’. It’s bullshit. It will take 12 months to come back. Pricing will stimulate a rapid volume recovery. The question is when pricing comes back. That will be much longer.”

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