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Ryanair to expand in Spain despite crisis

Published on 25/03/2009

MADRID – Irish low-cost airline Ryanair is to open 39 new Spanish routes in 2009 despite a sharp drop in tourism due to the global economic crisis, chief executive Michael O'Leary said Tuesday.

"At a time when traffic to and from Spain is collapsing, particularly at the major Spanish airports, including Madrid and Barcelona, Ryanair is still the one airline in Spain growing rapidly," he said.

Ryanair’s overall traffic will grow by about 15 percent this year from 58 million to 67 million passengers, said O’Leary at a news conference in Madrid.

"A significant amount of that growth is already allocated to Spain where in 2009 alone, Ryanair will open up 39 new routes to and from eight Spanish airports – Alicante, Girona, Granada, Ibiza, Palma, Reus, Santander and Sevilla."

O’Leary forecast Ryanair would overtake Spanish flag carrier Iberia as the country’s largest airline "in about two years".

He saw "enormous growth opportunities" for Spanish tourism and airports but only if the country’s airport authority, AENA, lowers its charges.

Spain, the world’s second biggest tourist destination after France, reported a record 59.2 million visitors in 2007 but this dropped to 2.6 percent to 57.41 million in 2008 as the global economic slump hit home.

In February alone, tourist arrivals plunged 15.9 percent from a year earlier.

Ryanair made a loss of almost EUR 119 million during its third quarter as fuel costs soared and it reduced fares.

However, last month the no-frills carrier upgraded its full-year profit forecast to EUR 50-80 million from a previous estimate of break-even as fuel costs fall sharply.

O’Leary also reaffirmed that the airline has no plans to make a third bid for Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus.

"The only way would be if the Irish government comes back and asks us to rescue Aer Lingus," he said.

The Irish government, which owns 25 percent of Aer Lingus, rejected a Ryanair bid in January, arguing that it greatly undervalued the carrier.

Ryanair’s offer was worth only half the EUR 1.48 billion it had offered for Aer Lingus in an unsuccessful takeover attempt in October 2006.

AFP / Expatica