Ryanair lifts passenger forecasts as profits rise despite market turbulence
RYANAIR said profits jumped 7 per cent in the first half of the year as it increased the number of passengers it expects to carry by 2024.
The low-cost carrier said half-year profits after tax reached €1.168 billion(£1.042 billion) to the end of September, up from €1.088 billion (£971 million) over the same period last year.
The profits boost came despite the airline enduring turbulent market conditions, triggered by air traffic control (ATC) strikes, a string of overseas terror attacks and the economic fallout of the Brexit vote.
But despite its Brexit concerns and "caution" over the outlook for the business, Ryanair raised its long-term traffic forecasts by more than 10 per cent to 200 million passengers.
The firm said it believes it can deliver profitable growth across Europe by "controlling costs, lowering airfares, and maximising load factors".
Chief executive Michael O'Leary said: "We are pleased to report this 7 per cent increase in first-half profits, which was a creditable performance in difficult market conditions due to repeated ATC strikes, terror events, and the adverse economic impact of the Brexit vote in June which saw sterling weaken materially over the peak summer period.
"We responded by accelerating our Always Getting Better (AGB) customer experience programme, and using our lower costs base to stimulate stronger forward bookings with lower fares."
The trading update comes after Ryanair slashed its earnings forecasts last month as it grapples with the impact of the Brexit-hit pound.
The airline expects full-year earnings of between €1.30 billion (£1.17 billion) and €1.35 billion (£1.22 billion), down from the previous range of €1.38 billion (£1.24 billion) to €1.43 billion (£1.28 billion).
In its half-year results, the company said it remained "comfortable" with its full-year outlook, as long as it is not hit by an unexpected drop in air fares.
Revenues lifted 2 per cent to €4.132 billion (£3.686 billion) for the half-year, up from €4.040 billion (£3.604 billion) in 2015.
The Dublin-based firm said traffic grew 12 per cent to 65 million customers over the period, while average air fares fell 10 per cent to €50 (£44.61).
It said it its expects more of its rivals to close bases and routes in Germany, Italy, Spain and Belgium as they struggle to compete with the firm's low air fares.
On Brexit, the firm said Britain's departure from the European Union will hang over the business throughout 2018.
British airlines are waiting with bated breath to discover whether the UK will remain a member of the EU's Open Skies aviation free market.
Mr O'Leary said: "We hope that the UK will remain a member of Europe's Open Skies system, but until the final outcome of Brexit has been determined, we will continue to adapt to changing circumstances in the best interests of our customers, our people and our shareholders."
In January Ryanair returned to Northern Ireland after a six-year absence by opening a hub at Belfast International Airport, where is is already flying to a string of sun destinations including Alicante, Lanzarote, Malaga and Tenerife in addition to several routes to Poland.
It had previously operated from George Best Belfast City Airport but left in 2010 when a planned runway extension failed to materialise.