O’Leary has the form, and the success, to thwart the conventional thinking of competitors and commentators, showing a talent in the past for correctly reading public sentiment when others have not. “People have been locked up since mid-March,” he noted. “People are really gagging to go out and I’m thinking of going abroad for the sun. “
Earlier, he identified a desire to travel among the masses that many would have considered unlikely, as when the prophets of doom predicted that air travel would never be the same again after September 11.
When rival airlines handed governments begging bowls to cover their losses on the ground, O’Leary responded to the 2001 attacks with a sale of seats, after waiting a few weeks while people faced the shock. He bet correctly that if the prices were low enough, customers would enjoy a cheap vacation and that he would make money by flying Ryanair planes.
It has followed the same pattern again after various terrorist attacks over the next decade. He calculated that passengers would be convinced that the attacks would be extremely rare and that airport security measures would be sufficient to protect them. Its counterintuitive nature, as well as a ruthless approach to keeping costs low, built an airline that carried more than 140 million passengers a year at its peak, generating profits of more than 1.4 billion euros. (£ 1.2 billion).
Personal pride, as well as nearly 4% ownership of the company and a bonus plan that could pay him 99 million euros if he gets the share price high enough by 2024, are incentives to bring his plane back where he wants it. Ryanair entered this crisis with huge cash reserves – around 4 billion euros – but they are sucked up with 450 planes on the ground.
Starting in July, O’Leary plans to lead the recovery of the struggling European aeronautics industry by restoring approximately 40% of Ryanair’s flights, or 1,000 flights per day, from as many of its 80 bases as possible. Europe. He announced a series of measures that he believes will keep Ryanair flights safe.
O’Leary must hope that a sufficient number of customers will overcome their fears of contracting the virus and will consider the protections offered on flights to be sufficient. They are expected to re-inflate for the lure of the holidays.
He knows that many people will not be inclined to follow official advice, especially as their patience wears out. He may be confident that they will not share the pessimism of the British Secretary of Health, Matt Hancock, about the likelihood of taking a vacation abroad. When asked about Boris Johnson’s quarantine plans, O’Leary declared them “absurd”.
Walsh, who delayed his retirement until September, was optimistic when he appeared before a committee of the House of Commons on Monday. He spoke of IAG’s ability to survive if he couldn’t get back on the plane in July as he wanted and as expected, despite the very large cash balances that put IAG in a stronger position than most. Airlines companies.
Johnson’s statement Sunday of a two-week quarantine period for returnees to Britain (other than Ireland and France) seemed to particularly scare Walsh.
“We had planned to resume our flights on a fairly large basis in July,” he said. “I think we should revisit this based on what the Prime Minister said … however we look at it, this is our most optimistic scenario that it will be around 2023 before returning to 2019 levels There are people who predict that it will not be before 2026. “
Walsh will not be the head of IAG, but O’Leary has been with Ryanair for at least three more years. Irish rivals are probably the most important figures in European aviation. They are close personally, agree on many things, and both display ruthlessness and relentlessness in cutting costs. Their divergence in recent days on how to fly planes is instructive about the possibilities for the whole industry.
O’Leary’s efforts to create demand may be exactly what the European aviation industry needs to survive in a form that resembles its current form. He can be paralyzed by constraints beyond his control, regardless of his reading of public desires. To achieve its goals, O’Leary needs to lift government restrictions on what is considered non-essential theft and effective public health measures to be put in place at airports. His British television advertising campaign on Tuesday was just the starting point for what could be a noisy campaign.
• Matt Cooper is the author of Michael O’Leary: eventful times for the man who made Ryanair