Ryanair lost €815 million last year after seeing passenger numbers plummet by 81%.
During the year ended 31 March 2021, the airline saw passenger numbers fall from 148.6 million to just 27.5 million, turning the previous year’s €1 billion profit into the massive loss.
The airline said the 12-month period “was the most challenging in Ryanair’s 35-year history” despite a partial recovery in summer 2020.
However, Ryanair was bullish about the coming months. It said: “If, as is presently predicted, most European populations are vaccinated by September, then we believe that we can look forward to a strong recovery in air travel, jobs and tourism in the second half of the current fiscal year.
“The recent strong increases in weekly bookings since early April suggests that this recovery has already begun.”
The carrier criticised “a tsunami of state aid” from EU governments to “insolvent” airlines that it said “will distort EU competition and prop up high cost, inefficient, flag carriers for many years”.
Despite this, Ryanair said it expected to take advantage of expansion opportunities using the Boeing 737 Max, for which it has increased its order from 135 to 210. The aircraft, now known as the 737-8200 following two fatal accidents, offers 16% less fuel burn and 4% more seats.
“This will enable the group to fund lower fares and capitalise on the many growth and market share opportunities that are now available across Europe, especially where competitor airlines have substantially cut capacity or failed,” it said.
“The group expects to benefit from a strong rebound of pent-up travel demand through the second half of 2021 and looks forward to returning to pre-Covid growth in summer 2022 with the help of the gamechanger aircraft and new bases.”
Ryanair has banned UK nationals from purchasing shares in order to protect its EU licences post-Brexit.
“We expect these restrictions will remain in place for the foreseeable future until the balance in favour of EU shareholders is restored or the EU and UK agree a less restrictive airline ownership and control regime than the current 50%-plus nationality rule which dates back to the 1940s,” it said.