Boeing Frontiers
February 2003
Volume 01, Issue 09
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools
Q and A

MICHAEL O'LEARY, chief executive officer, Ryanair

Michael O'Leary is the outspoken chief executive officer of Ryanair, the Irish low-fare airline that used the Southwest Airlines low-cost business model to become the most profitable airline in Europe. Ryanair ordered 125 737s in the past year and took options for 125 more. O'Leary answered these questions for Boeing Frontiers.

Michael O'LearyQ. Ryanair's entire fleet is made up of 737s. Why did you choose them?

A. Our new Boeing 737s have improved our customer appeal, our reliability, our safety, and our technical airworthiness. And they have transformed our image and made us the fastest-growing airline in Europe.

Q. You've talked recently about being partners with Boeing. How would you characterize that partnership?

A. We have much to learn from a company with the heritage and knowledge that Boeing has, and I think we bring energy and a passion for low-fare air travel in Europe. I see us developing our partnership so that Ryanair becomes the biggest airline in Europe over the next 10 years.

The 737 is one of the cornerstones for Southwest, the biggest and best low-fare airline in the world. The other cornerstone is a long and deep partnership with Boeing. Ryanair intends to do the same. We just ordered another 22 737s, and we will be ordering more. We are and will always be a Boeing customer.

You see, Airbus believes Europe is Airbus country. Ryanair believes Europe is Boeing country. Ryanair is going to be working with Boeing on a special mission —kicking the a** of Airbus customers and Airbus all over Europe.

Q. Did your European low-fare rival easy- Jet make a mistake in ordering Airbus, splitting its fleet and breaking with the Southwest low-fare model?

A. I think easyJet made two mistakes: They bought the wrong aircraft—Airbus instead of Boeing. And they bought the A319. They didn't buy a bigger aircraft— something like the 737-800.

Q. What do you think about all these European airlines that are trying to start low-cost operations?

A. There is only one low-cost airline in Europe and that's called Ryanair. There are a lot of other carriers trying to get into the market after the event. If you take some of the German airlines—their average fare is three to four times higher than Ryanair's. They only look like low-cost carriers compared to Lufthansa or Air France. But, imitation is the best form of flattery.

Q. What do you think it takes to succeed as a low-fare in the European market?

A. You've got to have the lowest cost of operation and the lowest fares. You'll only get there by being passionate about offering low fares. Too many airlines succeed for a short period of time, then lose it because they start raising fares. And they expect customers to pay for higher costs.

Q. What do you have to say about Airbus claims that the slightly wider fuselage of the Airbus A320 family is an advantage?

A. I've heard a lot of horse**** about a wider fuselage. I've yet in 15 years in this industry to meet one passenger who booked his ticket based on that. The seats have been wide enough and the aisles have been wide enough for passengers.

Q. Three of the low-cost airlines that are doing so well—Southwest, WestJet and Ryanair—all have pretty dynamic people at the top. What is your role in making Ryanair succeed?

A. My role in making Ryanair succeed is to interfere as little as possible, try to stay out of other people's way and then claim the credit for all the success when it comes along.

Q. What do you think Ryanair will look like in 10 years?

A. About three times the size it is today, with about four times the number of 737s in the fleet. We expect to grow from 15 million passengers today to 30 million in the next five years, then another 40 to 45 million in the following five years.


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