Ryanair continues its relentless expansion in Europe with the opening of its first base in Italy. From February 2003 it will operate three Boeing 737-800s from Milan's Bergamo Airport, in what it describes as a "natural development".

The Irish low-cost carrier is already the largest carrier between London and Italy, and recently added more flights from its existing European bases at Brussels Charleroi and Frankfurt Hahn to various destinations in Italy. In 2001 it flew more than 3.5 million passengers in and out of Italy, and expects to carry over five million in 2003 as a result of the new base. Initially Ryanair's destinations from Milan will be to London Stansted and Luton, Paris Beauvais, Brussels Charleroi, Gerona, Hamburg Lubeck and Frankfurt Hahn.

The airline's next base will be in either Scandinavia, Germany or another in Italy, but not in France, says the carrier. An announcement is due in the New Year. Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary says that for the first time this year the airline will have over 50% of its traffic originating outside the UK market.

Shortly after unveiling its Italian plans, Ryanair also unveiled strong results for the six months to 30 September. Passenger traffic in the period grew by 37% to 7.8 million, while its load factor rose six points to 88%. After-tax profits climbed to €151 million ($153 million), up from €88 million in the same period in 2001.

Ryanair says the most important feature of its results is its success in driving down fares and operating costs. Its average fare has fallen by 2%, but operating costs have fallen by 11% on a per passenger basis.

Source: Airline Business