Ryanair has inched closer to profit highs last seen by the company in 2018, with the Irish carrier carefully considering the impact of Boeing delivery delays and its ability to grow its passenger numbers in the year ahead.
Ryanair achieved close to record full-year profit in the year to March 31 and is cautiously optimistic that robust summer demand will ensure modest profit growth in the next 12 months despite fuel costs being less “fortuitously” hedged.
Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers expects 10 percent traffic growth this year to more than offset a $1.1 billion rise in its oil bill, it said on Monday as it posted slightly better than expected annual post-tax earnings of $1.57 billion.
Ryanair said it stands to gain more from peak summer fares “trending ahead of last year”, with summer European short-haul capacity set to be 5-10 percent below pre-pandemic levels.
“There is no doubt in my mind that people who have been locked up for the two years of Covid are going back traveling. They see travel not as a luxury but as an essential and families are returning to the beaches of Europe this summer,” Chief Executive Michael O’Leary said in a presentation to investors.
Other major European airlines, most recently low-cost rival EasyJet, have all pointed to robust summer bookings, showing consumers prioritizing travel despite incomes being squeezed by higher inflation.
Ryanair shares, up 27 percent so far this year, were 1.4 percent higher in early trade.
O’Leary cautioned that he was not entirely sure if that would continue and that winter and early 2024 may be more challenging.
However, he added that a large backlog of aircraft deliveries is likely to constrain European capacity growth for at least four more years and create “enormous growth opportunities” for Ryanair as it adds 110 new Boeing jets over the next three summers.
Boeing delivery delays could push some of its expected growth into the lower yielding second half of this year and require capacity to be trimmed judiciously, he said, with the carrier expecting to be short of up to 10 new jets in June and July.
Finance chief Neil Sorahan told Reuters that the Irish airline remained comfortable it would increase passenger numbers to 185 million from a record 168.6 million in the past financial year.
The delivery delays could potentially reduce first-half passenger numbers by 750,000, he said.
O’Leary expects all the aircraft needed for summer 2024 to arrive by the end of next May and that deliveries will be “smoother” next summer.
A multibillion-dollar deal struck with Boeing this month for as many as 300 jets will allow traffic to grow to 300 million passengers a year by March 2034, Ryanair has predicted.
Ryanair’s $1.57 billion full-year post-tax profit was slightly better than analyst expectations and its own forecast of $1.568 billion.
The company made a loss of $390 million in last year’s pandemic-hit financial year but its turnaround came close to topping the record $1.59 billion profit achieved in the year to March 31, 2018.
($1 = 0.9084 euros)
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and David Goodman)