Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary has announced that Ryanair intends to stage a comeback in Ukraine ‘as fast as possible’ after authorities declare it safe. In remarks made during an exclusive interview with Simple Flying, against the backdrop of the Airlines for Europe Summit in Brussels, O’Leary envisaged a return to Ukraine ‘within days’ of air authorities giving the all-clear.
Ukrainian airspace has been closed, with no commercial arrivals or departures since the Russian invasion.
Emphasising the opportunities presented by the Ukrainian market, O’Leary said in typically robust style, “We are going to charge back into Ukraine as fast as possible. We were [carrying] 2 million passengers in Ukraine before Putin’s invasion. We had plans to open 3-4 bases in Ukraine in 2022. We still see Ukraine as a market that has the same potential that Poland has.”
We would want to play a leading role in the reconstruction of air travel in Ukraine as soon as the European agents or authorities tell us it is safe to do so.Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s CEO
Ukraine’s State Agency for Tourism Development has found tourism tax revenues unsurprisingly plummeted by 31% overall in Ukraine over 2022. Lyiv and Kyiv however improved their takings. Boarding houses and dormitories were one of the few sectors that ‘boomed’ – by 46%. Much of that is due to establishments providing temporary refuge for people who were forced to leave their homes due to the war. However Mariana Oleskiv, the agency’s head has stressed that despite the war, Ukraine’s tourism industry is working.
O’Leary predicted a structured post-war return, with destination flights first, followed by bases. While he foresaw issues with a speedy return to Kherson, he named existing hubs Kyiv, Lviv, and Odessa as potential bases.
According to Cirium aviation data, prior to the shutdown, Kyiv airport accounted for nearly 62% of Ryanair’s Ukrainian traffic, serving 13 nations, including heavy schedules for Italy and Poland. Similarly weighted towards Italy and Poland, Lviv provided 24% of operations. Odessa ranked third with 13.4%.
Despite manufacturing delays that have affected Ryanair group’s summer schedule, O’Leary expressed confidence that by the time Ukrainian airports are opened up, the carrier would have enough aircraft to meet demand without compromising other routes. Ryanair has Boeing orders in the pipeline.
“It wouldn’t suit us if [Ukraine] was declared safe on the 1st of April next year,” he said, “because the summer schedule is already on sale; we don’t want to chop and change that. But if it was clear and safe at the end of the summer going into the winter when we have 60-80 aircraft sitting on the ground for maintenance, then that will [work].”
International observers and Ukrainians meanwhile might dare to hope that peace doesn’t have to obey O’Leary’s preferred timeline.