Ryanair aspires to move into long-haul...but not for now

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Low-cost carrier aims to go further using European connections as platform

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary expects the Irish low-cost carrier to add feeder services for a long-haul, low-cost operation – but not in the near future.

O’Leary says Ryanair’s short-haul expansion in Europe would eventually lead to the carrier gaining a critical mass where the development of a complementary long-haul operation would represent a “logical extension”.

But he warns that, although the move would represent a coherent strategy if predicted growth fulfils current forecasts, a long-haul airline would either need to be created or identified to complement the activities of the low-cost operation, which would be kept separate.

“It is a logical extension to look to some long-haul, low-cost service in the future as we have all the links in Europe – a comprehensive feeder system – but this certainly won’t be as Ryanair itself and not within five years’ time,” says O’Leary, adding that there are no immediate plans to develop the strategy.

He says Ryanair would also need sufficient critical mass for the strategy to work – around 100 million passengers a year, or nearly three times its projected 35 million annual passenger total for 2005.

“We have said all along in our business plan that we want to grow the business to 50 million passengers over the next five years and then we could well go further and attempt to double that to 100 million passengers over the next five-year period until 2015,” says O’Leary. “But we are very busy at the moment. We have our aircraft orders and expansion strategy in place and that is more than enough for us to be going on with.”

- The machinists’ strike at Boeing has forced Ryanair to change its flight schedule to cope with the delayed delivery of at least seven 737-800s. “If the strike did continue to Christmas we would have to make cancellations and delay new route development in December and January,” says O’Leary. Three 737-200s due to be retired in September will continue flying for another month.

AIMEE TURNER/LONDON