Ryanair reported losses of €185 million on Monday as passenger numbers fell by 99% during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, a period the European budget airline described as the "most challenging" in its 35-year history.
In a bleak assessment, the carrier warned that "air travel in Europe is likely to remain depressed for at least the next two or three years" and said a second wave of COVID-19 cases across the continent in late autumn "is our biggest fear right now".
Ryanair shares fell by 4% on Monday amid a general slump in the travel and tourism industries over concerns about new restrictions to combat fresh coronavirus outbreaks in parts of Europe, particularly Spain.
The imposition of flight or travel bans and widespread lockdowns forced Ryanair to ground its fleet for almost four months, the airline said. From July it resumed flights across most routes as restrictions were eased, but still expects traffic in the coming year to be down by 60%.
The €185 million loss the airline suffered in the quarter to the end of June compares to a profit of €243 million in the same period last year. After carrying nearly 42 million passengers in the same few months in 2019, Ryanair passenger numbers plummeted to just 500,000 this year as the pandemic took hold.
An 85% reduction in costs was not enough to offset a plunge in revenue of 95% "as bookings came to an abrupt standstill" in the early stages of the crisis, Ryanair said. Even so, it describes its balance sheet as "one of the strongest in the industry".
The airline says it also sees opportunities to grow its network and expand its fleet as it emerges from the pandemic with lower costs. It repeats an attack against what it calls "illegal State Aid from EU governments to their flag carrier airlines".
The European Commission has previously described changes to rules to allow countries to ease airlines' liquidity problems as temporary, ensuring that they are "necessary, proportionate and appropriate".
Ryanair has said it will not cut flights to Spain, despite the British government's advice against non-essential travel to the country and its decision to quarantine visitors from there arriving in the UK, amid a rise in coronavirus infections. The airline's chief executive Michael O'Leary called the move a "badly managed over-reaction", accusing the government of having "panicked".
Other airlines are also continuing to fly from the UK to Spain, including EasyJet although the budget carrier says it is cancelling holidays to the country for the next few weeks.