Ryanair has pledged to be “the first airline to return to Ukraine” when it is safe to do so after the Russian invasion.
Its chief executive, Michael O’Leary, said Ryanair had been set to fly 2 million people to four airports in the country this year and had hoped to expand further before the invasion last week.
He said he did not believe it would be possible to fly to Ukraine “for the foreseeable future; after Russia … essentially disabled a lot of the flight systems”.
He added: “We will be the first airline to return to Ukraine when it is safe to do so … but I suspect it will take until next winter; when hopefully the Ukrainians will have seen off the Russians and sent them back to where they came from.”
O’Leary said Ryanair was flying humanitarian cargo in the belly of its planes “for the first time in 30 years” to Polish airports, liaising with Ukrainian embassies.
The airline has had a surge in bookings to Poland; where family members are flying to reunite with Ukrainian refugees close to the border.
Wider flight bookings on Ryanair have otherwise dropped about 20% in the first days of the conflict, and are still around 10% down.
O’Leary said he also expected massive demand for European beach destinations this summer.
With long-haul flying more risky and expensive due to Covid and the Russian airspace ban alongside pent-up demand from those who holidayed at home during the pandemic, millions could be competing for hotels and flights on short-haul routes.
“If you holidayed in Bognor Regis or Scotland or the west of Ireland last summer, in a caravan in the gales and the rain, you are going [abroad]”, he said.
Peak summer fares were likely to be 10-15% more expensive than pre-Covid; he predicted, advising early booking.
The airline is set to expand strongly in the UK, growing strongly at London Stansted in particular; with 14 new routes expected to drive traffic above pre-Covid levels.
Ryanair would be set to overtake easyJet as the UK’s biggest carrier at some point in 2022, O’Leary claimed.
He said Ryanair would also benefit from its “somewhat fortuitous fuel-hedging strategy”; with 80% of its jet fuel requirements hedged at $65 dollars a barrel until March 2023.
However, the high price of oil for the remaining 20%; would still make a dent of around €50m in the airline’s balance sheet next year, he predicted.