By Graham Fahy
DUBLIN (Reuters) -Ireland’s Ryanair narrowed the range for its forecast annual loss on Monday as passenger numbers topped pre-pandemic levels for the first time ahead of the key Easter holiday period.
Europe’s largest low-cost carrier said it now expects a net loss between 350 million euros and 400 million euros ($386 million to $441 million) for the year to March 31, 2022.
It had previously guided the market to a loss of between 250 million euros and 450 million euros with Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary last week pointing to the middle of the range and telling Reuters the airline was well placed for the coming year depending on traffic recovery and fares.
Ryanair said it had flown 11.2 million people last month compared to just 0.5 million during lockdown a year ago and 10.9 million in March 2019, the first time it had carried more passengers in a given month than in the corresponding pre-pandemic period.
That included the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which caused the cancellation of 2,000 flights and the ongoing suspension of activity in Ukraine, where it is one of the largest foreign operators.
While full-year traffic topped 97 million passengers, up from 27.5 million in the previous 12 months, it was still well below a pre-pandemic peak of 149 million.
Ahead of the what O’Leary has called the “critical” Easter holiday period, Ryanair’s load factor – a measure of how well an airline is filling available seats – nudged up to 87% in March, in line with a forecast made by the CEO in January of almost 90% by April.
The airline also said it had increased its fuel hedging to 80% cover for 2023, with around 65% locked-in at $630 per metric tonne through jet swaps – a hedging tool – and 15% caps at $775.
Ryanair had previously hedged 80% of its needs for the first half of 2023 and 70% for the second half.
Almost 10% of its fuel requirements for the first half of its 2024 financial year are hedged at $760 per metric tonne, it added.
The expected annual loss would be an improvement on the 815 million euro ($989 million) after-tax loss recorded in 2021.
Low cost rival easyJet said on Monday it cancelled some flights to and from Britain after a new COVID-19 surge left it short of staff.
($1 = 0.9060 euros)
(Reporting by Graham FahyEditing by David Goodman, Kirsten Donovan)