Ryanair sees Morocco growth; Middle East move much later

Bernie Baldwin

Three based aircraft have been added in Morocco since the Covid pandemic.

The addition of Agadir means Ryanair now has three bases – and there’s more to come. That was the message from the carrier’s director of route development network, Ray Kelliher, to delegates in Tangier.

As well as developing a partnership with Moroccan authorities in recent years, Kelliher emphasised the value of based aircraft as well as a simple model. “We operate point-to-point traffic, not W operations. We will fly an aircraft based in Marrakech to Dublin, then it will fly home from Dublin to Marrakech and only then go off from Marrakech, again, maybe to France or Germany or somewhere else,” he explained.

“That based aircraft has a target of doing six flights a day. So the attraction of a base aircraft is huge, because fundamentally, you’re getting the most utilisation from our asset, which is more flights and more passengers. But it does something else that’s very important – it opens you up to the 230 airports within the network versus an airport can only connect to the 91 bases,” Kelliher added.

“Airline partners such as tourism bodies can rest assured when they partner with us, we’re perversely more concerned about our load factors than you are at your airports. Because ultimately, the biggest metric that we can control is how many passengers we’re going to carry each year. We grow that every year, and almost always come in above target. That’s what gives airports and government agencies the confidence to do partnership deals, because you get what it says on the tin.”

Asked about the potential for Ryanair to follow some other European LCCs into the Middle East, Kelliher explained why it is unlikely in the near future. “We had some conversations, but fundamentally, when you come back to the hard maths, the number one thing Ryanair cares about is utilisation of its aircraft,” he declared.

“We look at that market more with a longer term view. But places like Saudi Arabia have already announced their own new airline, with ambitious plans including an order for 70-80 aircraft. That market will be able to grow at an exponential pace under its own steam. It’s very different than most countries in Europe, where a government can’t invest tens of billions of dollars into a company and develop it. In 5-10 years, Saudi Arabia could have one of the most powerful airlines in the Middle East in terms of size and capacity.

“For us though, [going there wouldn’t be] the best use of our aircraft,” Kelliher continued. “We’re more medium-term. In Europe, a lot of the aviation that came out during the pandemic has not come back. European carriers are declaring bankruptcy, or shrinking in size, or they’re taking more calculated risks in terms of how to use their aircraft. In the short term, the opportunity for us still largely lies in filling a lot of gaps in markets that we know.

“I would never say never, though. I expect, you will see a gradual creep in our network,” he concluded.

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5-7 Jun 2024