Ryanair Holdings PLC has reported a first quarter loss of €185 million, as Covid-19 caused a fall in traffic over the period from 42 million passengers to just 500,000.

The result compares to a net profit of €243 million for the first quarter of 2019.

The group was able to reduce its costs by 85 per cent over the first quarter, but this was not enough to offset a drop in revenue of nearly €2.2 billion, a fall of some 95 per cent on the previous year.

Load factors on operating flights over the first quarter also slumped from 96 per cent to just 61 per cent.

“The past quarter was the most challenging in Ryanair’s 35 year history. Covid-19 grounded the Group’s fleet for almost four months (from mid-March to end June) as EU Governments imposed flight or travel bans and widespread population lockdowns,” the group said.

“During this time, Group airlines repatriated customers and operated rescue flights for different EU Governments, as well as flying a series of medical emergency/PPE flights across Europe. Our aircraft and crews were kept current by operating skeleton schedules and currency flights which ensured that the Group airlines were ready to efficiently resume flights when lockdown restrictions eased in most EU countries in late June/early July.”

The group expects to have flown around 40 per cent of its normal schedule in July, rising to 60 per cent in August, and “hopefully” 70 per cent in September.

Ryanair also reaffirmed its intention to clear over 90 per cent of cash refund requests by the end of this month.

Striking a positive note, the group said that capacity cuts by other airlines “will create opportunities for Ryanair to grow its network, and expand its fleet, to take advantage of lower airport and aircraft cost opportunities that will inevitably arise”.

The group said that it now hopes to accept the delivery of its first B737 Max 200 before the end of 2020, with Boeing “indicating a late Q3 2020 return to service in the US for the B737 Max”.

“FY21 will be a very challenging year for the Ryanair Group of airlines,” the carrier said. “It is impossible to predict how long the Covid-19 pandemic will persist, and a 2nd wave of Covid-19 cases across Europe in late autumn (when the annual flu season commences) is our biggest fear right now.

“Hopefully EU Governments, by implementing effective track and tracing systems, and EU citizens by complying with recommended face masks, rigorous hand hygiene and other measures, will avoid the need for further lockdowns or restrictions on intra-EU flights.”