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Sunday 6 November 2011

Michael O’Leary’s Cash Cow Returns

Back in August 2009, I looked at the (then) latest bout of corporate mardy strop throwing by Ryanair, the Millwall of air carriers (everybody hates us and we don’t care), as the carrier pulled all its routes – except for the one to Dublin – from Manchester Airport, after management there declined to lower their handling fees, which were already no more than £3 per passenger.

And as was pointed out at the time, there was little incentive for the airport to give favourable treatment to Ryanair when there were other demands on capacity – notably from carriers like EasyJet, who continued to use Manchester. Moreover, Ryanair flew to secondary airports – Girona rather than Barcelona, for instance – making their offering less appealing.

Two years on, though, with the amount of growth wrung out of those secondary airports reaching its limits, Ryanair has come back to Manchester, putting a brave face on their volte face. Not only is the carrier returning, but will now be basing two aircraft there. Does that mean they will be getting a discount on handling fees? No. It means they need to come back to keep growing passenger numbers.

Problem is, the offering is very much as before: Girona rather than Barcelona, Orio al Serio (Bergamo) rather than Milan, Hahn rather than Frankfurt am Main, Charleroi rather than Brussels, and Beauvais (still not open 24 hours) rather than Paris CdG or Orly. But they are doing the Spanish Costas: Malaga, Alicante and Valencia all feature, as does Palma de Mallorca.

Put alongside those carriers that fly to primary airports, this looks as cheap, nasty and brazenly operator convenient as before. I’m sure that Ryanair has maintained ideological purity in pursuing its lower-cost-than-anyone-else model, but whether Manchester Airport’s customers want to play is another matter. And if they don’t, then what next for Ryanair?

After all, you can only throw a mardy strop from so many airports before the business gets wise to you. Michael O’Leary’s finest have pulled that stunt once too often, and he’s running out of road. The number of available airports willing to help drive Ryanair’s growth is running out.

The boot, right now, is well and truly on the other foot.

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