ANALYSIS: How Ryanair sees competitors' costs

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Ryanair contends that its ex-fuel unit cost is running 86% below that of its nearest rival - and the Irish budget airline has given a detailed breakdown which shows where it believes it is stealing a march on the competition.

The biggest gap is in the area of airport and handling charges. These account for €13 ($17) of the €25 lead Ryanair is claiming over EasyJet. Ryanair's explanation is simple: it flies mainly to secondary airports, unlike European low-cost rivals EasyJet, Norwegian and Air Berlin.

 ryanair cost table (may13)

Airports are also a factor in lower staff costs, by Ryanair's reckoning. "We can get more utilisation out of our people and our aircraft," says deputy chief Howard Millar. Ryanair targets 25min turnarounds.

Where ownership and maintenance costs are concerned. Ryanair claims an advantage from flying "a larger-gauge aircraft", namely its 189-seat Boeing 737-800 versus EasyJet's mainly 156-seat Airbus A319s.

A bugbear of Millar's is the route charges faced by European carriers: "We all have to pay for the use of fresh air in Europe." He notes that route charges are absent from comparative figures for the US-based Spirit Airlines and "the granddaddy of the low-fares business" Southwest Airlines, "even though [the US airlines'] cost base is much higher".

Completing the ex-fuel cost picture are sales and marketing costs, which Ryanair say it keeps as low as €2 per passenger. The airline estimates that fuel costs amount to €24 per passenger.

Millar puts Air Berlin and Norwegian in third and fourth place, respectively, in the European low-cost battle, but is dismissive of the competitive threat they present. "Air Berlin would be difficult to call 'low-fares'," he says, noting job cuts at the German carrier. Norwegian, meanwhile, has "a fundamental problem", he says, citing "very high average fare" - estimated by Ryanair at €86, versus Ryanair's €48 - and "a very high cost base". While he sees an opportunity to exploit any further cutbacks at neighbouring SAS, he argues that "translating that cost model across much of Europe... would be far more difficult for them,".