Ryanair is to expand flights from London this winter with services to seven new destinations and an increase in operations on 30 existing routes.
The move will increase its capacity from the three London airports it serves — Stansted, Gatwick and Luton — by 15 per cent. But Michael O’Leary, chief executive, warned of a likely softening of demand, and said that fares, which rose quickly after the pandemic, may fall over the next six months.
Separately, O’Leary renewed his calls for a shake-up of National Air Traffic Services (Nats), the part-privatised company that provides air-traffic control in the UK.
He said this week’s staff shortages at Gatwick, which come only a few weeks after a shutdown of the entire system, were evidence that Nats was mismanaged. He said Martin Rolfe, Nats chief executive, should stand down, adding: “Better still, he should be sacked.” The shutdown on August 28 will cost the carrier about £15 million, he said.
Airlines have recorded strong profits this summer as passengers have returned, keeping fares high. EasyJet reported a £203 million quarterly pre-tax profit, £317 million better than the same period last year, when it lost money.
O’Leary said the rise in fares was unlikely to continue. “We had a double-digit increase in fares in summer 2022, and a single-digit increase this summer. It can’t go on like that. People are struggling . . . and that will take its toll. We may have to try and stimulate the market by cutting fares,” he said.
O’Leary said the airline had encountered weakening demand for flights from regional UK cities, but that London remained strong. It will start flights from the capital to Belfast, Basel, Ouarzazate in Morocco, Poprad in Slovakia, Tirana, Treviso and Vigo.
Ryanair is forecast to carry more than 183 million passengers this year, and recently agreed a 300-aircraft order with Boeing, after taking delivery of 50 new planes last year, that should take passenger numbers over 300 million.
O’Leary said the airline was weighing its options to sue Nats for damages over the shutdown.
He also said he was sceptical of the internal report on the August outage. The Nats investigation said flight control software shut itself down after being unable to reconcile the identity of two navigation waypoints, which by chance had the same identification tag.
O’Leary said: “This will not be the first time the software has been confronted with two identical waypoints. It should have just rejected the flight plan. And then the back-up system did the same thing, which is ridiculous.”
A spokesman for Nats said it was recruiting and training air-traffic controllers at Gatwick “as fast as possible to ensure we return to a fully resilient operation as soon as we can”.