Ryanair flew just 17 million passengers in the first half of this financial year, as the Covid-19 pandemic had a unprecedented impact on demand.

The figure equates to an 80 per cent drop in passenger numbers compared to the same period in 2019, with global travel restrictions resulting in “almost zero Q1 traffic”.

As a result revenue fell 78 per cent to €1.18 billion, and the group reported a loss of €197 million for the first half of the financial year, compared to a profit of €1.15 billion in H1 2019.

In a ray of positive news, Ryanair said that ancillary revenue performed strongly in Q2, “as more guests chose priority boarding and reserved seating”.

But the group said that continued uncertainty meant FY21 “will continue to be a hugely challenging year”, with full year traffic expected to be just 38 million, a figure which Ryanair said “could be further revised downwards if EU Governments continue to mismanage air travel and impose more uncoordinated travel restrictions or lock downs this winter”.

The carrier recently cut planned capacity for this winter from 60 per cent of last year’s levels to just 40 per cent, blaming market conditions and changing government restrictions.

Ryanair to operate at just 40 per cent capacity this winter

Ryanair said that it expected intra-European air travel capacity “to remain subdued for the next few years”, but said that this would create opportunities for the group to grow its network.

“As we look beyond the Covid-19 crisis, and the emergence of effective vaccines in early 2021, the Ryanair Group expects to have a lower cost base, a stronger balance sheet, which will enable it to fund lower fares, and add new lower cost aircraft to capitalise on the many growth opportunities that will be available in all markets across Europe, especially where competitor airlines have substantially cut capacity or failed,” the group said.

Ryanair also said that with Boeing now planning for a return to service of the B737 Max aircraft this quarter, the group expects to take delivery of its first Max 200 in early 2021 (around two years later than originally planned), and around 30 of the aircraft before the peak summer 2021 season.

The carrier said that these “gamechanger” aircraft would enable it to grow to 200 million passengers per year over the next five to six years, “while lowering the cost base and significantly reducing its environmental footprint”.