© Provided by The GuardianPhotograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Ryanair has posted the biggest annual loss in the company's 35-year history, after Covid travel restrictions and national lockdowns nearly wiped out traffic last year.
The airline swung to an ?815m (£701m) loss in the 12 months to 31 March, compared with a ?1bn profit a year earlier, after passenger numbers plunged 81% in what it said was its "most challenging" year to date.
But the airline struck a hopeful note, suggesting the vaccine rollout would help the company recover from an unprecedented year of disruption for the aviation industry. Ryanair said it could break even this year, in the absence of further disruption.
Europe's largest discount airline said passenger numbers dropped to 27.5 million last year from 149 million in the year before. It blamed the poor figures on European governments that it claimed imposed uncoordinated flight bans, travel restrictions and national lockdowns with little notice during the outbreak.
Ryanair expects traffic to recover as governments begin to lift international travel restrictions, with forecasts for around 80 million to 120 million passengers during the current financial year. It expects to fly just 5 million to 6 million passengers between April and June.
"We expect intra-European air travel capacity to be materially lower for the foreseeable future," the airline said. However, Ryanair said it was "encouraged by the recent release of multiple Covid-19 vaccines and hope that their rollout will facilitate the resumption of intra-Europe air travel and tourism this summer". © Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty ImagesRyanair planes parked on a stand at Stansted airport. The airline said passenger numbers dropped to 27.5 million last year from 149 million in the year before.
The airline said it could look forward to a "strong recovery in air travel, jobs and tourism" in the second half of the year if European countries are able to vaccinate most of their populations by September as planned.
"The recent strong increases in weekly bookings since early April suggests that this recovery has already begun," Ryanair said, adding that it was likely to break even this year, barring any further disruptions to government's Covid roadmaps.
The comments came as the UK reopened for foreign travel on Monday, as the government scrapped legal restrictions on going abroad.
While travellers will no longer have to give a permitted reason to fly internationally, those returning to England will need to follow a traffic light system that will require them to isolate at home or in a hotel depending on which country they have visited.