Air travel may go back to pre-Covid-19 volumes sooner than predicted – by 2021-22, Ryanair Group CEO Michael O’Leary said on Tuesday, during WTM Virtual, the international travel trade show that is taking place online.
Speaking during a one-to-one interview with WTM Aviation Expert John Strickland, O’Leary said that the coronavirus pandemic had been an unprecedented experience.
“None of us has experienced such a global pandemic… We thought, at worst, a volcano eruption would reduce capacity by 5-10 percent for a couple of weeks. Even after 9/11 we were grounded for four days and got back in the air pretty quickly. We had no scenario for this,” he underlined.
However, O’Leary expressed his confidence that recovery is possible from 2021, as the interest of travelers for holiday destinations – including Spain, Greece, and Italy – is growing stronger.
“I hear some airlines say that air volumes will return in 2025 or 2050. I believe volumes will go back [to pre-Covid-19 levels] pretty quickly – in 2021-22. Because airlines, retailers and hotels will offer discounts to try to recover the business they’ve lost… It will take a longer period – 3-4 years – for pricing to reach 2019 levels but the recovery will be surprising,” he said.
“Airlines adapting quickly to the new circumstances, will emerge from this stronger and much more able to offer people the really low fares they need,” he added.
Covid-19 testing is key
Referring to the Covid-19 measures undertaken by European countries, O’Leary said the first [pan-European] lockdown in March was inevitable, but it should have been an opportunity for European governments to perform mass testing.
“After the first lockdown, every European government should have had the capacity to test 20 percent of its population. It would have been the way out of this pandemic. We have now walked into a second wave of lockdowns in Europe and mass testing is not happening,” he said.
O’ Leary also expressed optimism that a coronavirus vaccine will support recovery.
“There’s going to be a wave of vaccines coming at us, certainly licensed this side of Christmas, widely available for high-risk groups by the end of Q1 . There is reasonable optimism that by summer of 2021 we will get back to some degree of normality. In short-haul I see no reason why we won’t go back to 75-80 percent of 2019 [levels],” he added.
Ryanair fleet to expand
According to O’Leary, Ryanair maintains strong cash balances and owns almost all of its fleet. Looking ahead, the airline is working with Boeing for the delivery of 135 new MAX aircraft over the next five years, once the aircraft resumes commercial service.
Ryanair expects to have 30 MAX aircraft delivered by summer 2021 and 60 by summer 2022.