While the launch of a long-haul low-fare transatlantic carrier is on Michael O'Leary's radar, whether it gets off the ground is very much dependent on finding cheap aircraft.

Asked at a press conference in London yesterday when the proposed carrier could launch, O'Leary also stressed that the idea was still just a possibility. "There is no will in any of this, it's 'may or might happen', and nothing happens unless we can find a fleet of long-haul aircraft cheap in the next two years," he says.

O'Leary revealed the idea to Flight last year and yesterday gave more details than ever before about the thinking behind the venture. It will be a sister company of Ryanair's but the low-cost carrier itself will not invest in it or have any active part in running it, he says.

O Leary Ryanair head shot

"It will not be owned, controlled, invested or anything else by Ryanair. Ryanair will continue to be distinctly separate from any sister low-fare long-haul airline," he says.

O'Leary himself may invest, but that will depend on his personal commitment at Ryanair. "If I'm still working full time at Ryanair I might be reluctant to invest in a long-haul airline. Our focus at the moment is doubling the size of Ryanair and doubling its profits in the next five years."

If launched the sister carrier would operate from up to nine large bases in Europe where Ryanair already has a large presence, such as London Stansted, Dublin, Frankfurt Hahn or Brussels Charleroi, to "eight or nine large US cities", he says. Although a separate company, the long-haul carrier would benefit from Ryanair's negotiating power with the European airports.

So for the time being O'Leary appears to have the plan on the shelf ready to go if aircraft values drop to the point where it becomes feasible. "If aircraft fleet values collapse and there's every prospect of that happening now in this kind of recession, particularly with long-haul traffic collapsing," he says.

If the carrier were to take-off, Ryanair's sister airline would "plan to order a fleet of preferably new long-haul aircraft with an 18-month or two-year delivery time, unless some chaotic event happens and all of a sudden Airbus or Boeing has a load of long-haul aircraft they can't get rid of."

Pushed on potential investors in the venture, O'Leary said he would invite current Ryanair shareholders such as David Bonderman and Texas Pacific Group and other large shareholders like Capital and Prudential and offer them the opportunity to participate.


Source: Airline Business