Handelsblatt Exclusive Ryanair Drops Trans-Atlantic Plans

Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary says Europe's most popular airline by passenger number will no longer fly to North America. Handelsblatt spoke to the outspoken head about Brexit and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Michael O'Leary was vocal in his support of Britain remaining in the E.U. during the Brexit campaign.

Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary has ditched plans for his Ireland-based airline to start trans-Atlantic flights.

The manager cited a shortage of suitable aircraft as the main reason behind the decision.

He said last year that trans-Atlantic flights were postponed for the next few years, but his comments to Handelsblatt suggest a more definitive stance on long-haul routes by Europe's largest airline by passenger numbers.

“We no longer have plans to do trans-Atlantic,” Mr. O’Leary said. “Long haul is gone off. At the moment there are no aircraft available. Even if you could find an aircraft, there are none available for the next four years.”

In an exclusive interview with Handelsblatt, he also slammed the populist wave sweeping the United States and the United Kingdom as “insanity” and warned that isolationism would have economic consequences for both countries.

“Some kind of collective insanity has taken place over the last year, with Theresa May becoming prime minister by accident, Donald Trump is in the White House,” Mr. O’Leary said.

We no longer have plans to do trans-Atlantic. Michael O’Leary, Ryanair Chief Executive

The executive criticized Ms. May for adopting contradictory positions by advocating for Britain to exit the European single market while at the same time portraying the country as a champion of global free trade.

“Britain wants to be a global trading nation with free trade? So why don't you have free trade with the biggest trading block of the world, Europe? It’s mad,” Mr. O’Leary said.

Ryanair, which overtook Lufthansa as the largest airline in Europe by passengers, may have to force some of its shareholders to sell their stock to E.U. nationals in order to meet Brussels rules on foreign ownership and retrain its licenses in the wake of Brexit.

Mr. O’Leary, who strongly supported the Remain campaign, warned the British people would come to regret their vote to leave the European Union once the economic consequences set in.

“Britain doesn't produce anything, Britain doesn't make anything,” Mr. O’Leary said. “The economy is hugely dependent on financial services… the banks will partly go to Dublin, to Amsterdam, to Frankfurt, they have already begun looking.”

The airline executive also criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on trade and immigration, but said Mr. Trump could be successful if he slashes taxes on companies and families.

31 p15 Ryanair-01

“I am critical of some of his policies: America first, building a wall, deporting immigrants. A lot of work is not going to get done if immigrants don't do the job,” Mr. O’Leary said. “But isolationism has never yet succeeded anywhere in the world. If it did, North Korea would be the world's greatest economy.”

In addition to dropping plans for trans-Atlantic services, Mr. O’Leary said the budget carrier’s ultimate goal is to do away with ticket prices altogether one day and make its money from services such as snacks, Internet and advertising.

“One day I want to have all airfares on Ryanair free,” Mr. O’Leary said. “Ancillary revenues make already up 30 per cent of our revenues. We might never get there, but at least that’s the objective.”


Kerstin Leitel covers banks and insurance companies for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: [email protected]