Thursday, January 7, 2010

Lunch with the FT: Michael O’Leary

In the world of aviation, Ryanair is a phenomenon, a no-frills behemoth that has grown from a tiny operation which, in 1985, used to fly 5,000 passengers a year between Ireland and London in a single plane so small that, according to the company, its cabin crew had to be no taller than 5ft 2in. Since he took over in 1994 O'Leary has relentlessly expanded, with 200 aircraft flying more than 60m passengers a year to 150 European destinations, from the Canary Islands to Constanta in eastern Romania.

Recession has sent bigger, older airlines around the world hurtling into the red. Yet Ryanair has fared much better, coupling average fares of just €32 with a ruthless drive to cut costs and push up revenues by charging for everything from checking in online to buying a cup of coffee on board.

In the middle of this year Ryanair had the highest market value of any airline in the world, after Singapore Airlines. On the day we meet, it is getting ready to announce another quarterly profit and expects to make at least €200m this year.

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