Transportation Updates

The Story Of Ryanair: Ireland’s LCC Used To Be Anything But Low Cost

Present times excluded, Ryanair is the world’s largest international airline. With 79 bases across Europe and North Africa, the airline carries 149 million passengers per year, aiming to up this to 225 Million passengers over the next five years. The airline is receiving a huge MAX order which it will use to extend its grasp on Europe.

Would you believe that Ryanair launched as a full-service carrier? Photo: Getty Images

Ryanair was founded all the way back in 1985. The airline launched with a single propeller aircraft and carried just 5,000 passengers in its first year. It wasn’t until almost a decade later that the airline began flying the Boeing 737 that it is known for today.

The early days

Ryanair was founded back in 1985. The airline took its name from the family that founded it, the Ryan family. While the airline is known for being based in the Irish capital, Dublin, this wasn’t the case initially. With a 15 seater Bandeirante plane, the jet was operating daily flights from Waterford, a city that today has a population of just 53,500, to London Gatwick.

With just 25 staff at the very beginning, the airline quickly doubled its workforce, employing 51 by the end of the year. The airline carried just 5,000 passengers in its first year.

Moving to Dublin

Things seemed to improve in the second year rapidly. While the airline was operating as a full-service carrier, it was challenging the prices of the incumbent airlines. In its second year of operation, the airline was able to start flying from Dublin to London.

Ryanair flew the EMB 110 from 1985 to 1989. Photo: Torsten Maiwald via Wikimedia Commons

This put it in direct competition with British Airways and Aer Lingus. At the time, the two carriers were charging a minimum of £209. Meanwhile, Ryanair’s launch fair was £99, still crazy expensive compared to today’s lowest fares! The airline slightly upsized its fleet to two 46 seater BAE748 planes.

Financial issues loom

Unfortunately, it didn’t seem as though things were working at Ryanair. Five years in, the airline’s workforce had grown to 477, while passengers reached 644,000. The airline was loss-making, though. At the time, it was offering business class and a frequent flyer program, which were both ditched. The airline had also operated the BAC 1-11 jet and brand new ATR 42 Turboprops by this point.

The airline had lost around £20 million by 1990, prompting the Ryan family to invest £20 million more into the airline. This was when a change in direction took place. The airline relaunched as Europe’s first low-cost carrier rather than continuing as a full-service competitor to the flag carriers. Its lowest fares were slashed from £99 to £59, again, still far more than today!

Ryanair, History, Boeing 737
Ryanair quickly realized it needed to slash its prices to be competitive. Photo: Getty Images

rrival in London Stansted

These days, London Stansted is by far the Irish LCC’s largest hub, despite not housing its headquarters. The airline first arrived at the airport in May 1991, switching its main London base from London Luton. It seems the shift to low-cost was a good one to make, as 1991 to 1992 posted its first profit since launch, with an audited profit of £293,000.

The Boeing 737

These days you can’t think of Ryanair without thinking of the Boeing 737. But the 737 wasn’t always a part of the Ryanair fleet. The airline took delivery of its first Boeing 737 in the financial year of 1994 to 1995. The airline also launched flights from Birmingham to Dublin. The Irish Government had warned the airline against doing this at the risk of upsetting Aer Lingus. By the end of the year, the airline had taken eight Boeing 737s. This is a long way off of the airline’s current fleet.

Ryanair, History, Boeing 737
These days, Ryanair’s main base is at London Stansted Airport. Photo: London Stansted Airport

Continued expansion

Over the years, Ryanair has continued its expansion across Europe and North America. The European LCC overtook both Aer Lingus and British Airways as the leading carrier on London to Dublin in 1996. The airline then continued to grow out of other UK bases.

1997 was a big year for the LCC, as it was finally able to access the block’s open skies agreement, meaning that services across the EU were simplified. With the deregulation of the continent’s skies, the airline could easily expand its services across the continent.

The airline launched its first European routes the following year, heading to Olso and Stockholm Skatsva. This was also the year that the airline joined the Dublin and NASDAQ stock exchanges. The airline also launched a flight to Frankfurt, with its share price at over €25.5 on the first trading day. As employees received shares, they suddenly had more than €100 million in shares.

Ryanair, History, Boeing 737
Ryanair has become an avid user of the Boeing 737. Photo: Getty Images

Continued growth

In the years that followed, Ryanair continued adding routes to its network and conquering Europe. Year on year, its passenger number grew, as did its staff numbers. The airline first surpassed 10,000,000 passengers in the financial year of 2002-2003, and by quite a way. In the previous year, the airline carried 9,355,000. In the space of a year, this increased drastically to 15,736,936 passengers.

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As the low-cost carrier launched its first website, it could cut out the cost of travel agents and sell flights directly to passengers. This led to even cheaper fares for passengers. By 2007, the airline had 100 Boeing 737 aircraft, with passenger’s growing by millions each year.

Ryanair today

By the financial year of 2019-2020, Ryanair had grown into a European behemoth. The airline carried 149 million passengers with an average fare of €49 in 2019-2020, equaling a rough income of €6.109 billion. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to last.

In March 2020, the airline began to feel the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the start, O’Leary, the airline group’s CEO, told Simple Flying,

“We expect this to evolve and spread in the next, my view is, the next couple of weeks up until the run-up to Easter. Thereafter, my guess is that you have general temperatures rising, probably a slow down in the spread of the virus across Europe just as we move from Spring into Summer”

Ryanair, Boeing 737 MAX, Liveries
Ryanair is now welcoming the latest generation of the Boeing 737. Photo: Ryanair

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, and Ryanair grounded all but a handful of flights in April and May 2020. After this, the low-cost carrier looked to resume flights and was initially successful until the second and third waves of COVID-19 arrived in late 2020. Now that these have died down and vaccines are accepted for travel, Ryanair is back at pre-pandemic winter passenger numbers.

What is your memory of Ryanair? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!

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