Ryanair FY2024 results: European aviation's profit and cash machine


Ryanair is very good at generating profits and cash - a fairly rare combination in the airline industry.

It achieves this with low fares, enabled by low unit costs, leading to industry-leading load factors and Europe's best operating margins.

For the financial year to Mar-2024, Ryanair reported its highest-ever net profit, of EUR1,917 million, and its highest-ever passenger count, of 184 million. This was 24% more passengers than in FY2020, which was the last pre-pandemic year. The airline's net cash position has allowed a share buyback, in addition to dividend payments.

True - there are uncertainties in the outlook over the coming year, both geopolitical and industry, including any further delays to its Boeing 737MAX deliveries. However, these are outside management's control.

Moreover, by consistently sticking to what it is good at, Ryanair's FY2024 results are further evidence that it can successfully bounce back from the impact of external shocks.

  • Ryanair Group carried 184 million passengers in FY2024 – up 9% year-on-year and 24% more than FY2020, the last pre-pandemic year.
  • Ryanair's industry-leading 94% load factor is almost back to pre-pandemic levels.
  • Ryanair reported its highest-ever net profit of EUR1917 million for FY2024. Its operating margin was the highest of Europe's leading six airline groups.
  • In FY2025 Ryanair expects 198-200 million passengers, a modest increase in cost per passengers, and positive demand, but softer pricing than previously expected.
  • Ryanair's FY2034 targets are for 300 million passengers and 800 aircraft.

Ryanair Group carried 184 million passengers in FY2024, up 9% year-on-year and 24% above the last pre-pandemic year

Ryanair Group carried 183.7 million passengers in FY2024 (the year ended Mar-2024); that was an increase of 9.0% from 168.6 million in the year before.

The FY2024 total was 23.6% above the 148.6 million passengers carried by the group in the last pre-pandemic year of FY2020.

As noted in the CAPA - Centre for Aviation report Europe's top 20 airline groups by passengers 2023: Ryanair's lead is set to endure, in the 2023 calendar year Ryanair was again comfortably Europe's biggest airline group by passenger numbers. Its 181.8 million passengers in the calendar year were 48% more than number two ranked Lufthansa Group's 122.5 million.

Ryanair Group: passenger numbers and load factor, FY2004 to FY2023

Ryanair's industry-leading 94% load factor is almost back to pre-pandemic levels

Ryanair's load factor increased from 93% in FY2023 to 94% in FY2024.

This took its load factor almost back to its pre-pandemic levels of 95%-96%, experienced in the period FY2018 to FY2020, and was some 12ppts above its levels of a decade ago (2014).

This results from its 'load factor active/yield passive' policy, whereby it achieves a high target load factor by adjusting fares accordingly.

In spite of this, Ryanair Group's average fare increased by 21% to EUR49.80 in FY2024. This figure was 33% higher than in FY2020, and its highest since reaching EUR53.77 in FY2001.

This reflects the ongoing overhang of demand following the COVID-19 pandemic and the appeal of Ryanair's low fares, which are still below competitors' prices.

Ryanair's load factor is comfortably the highest among Europe's six leading airline groups. The nearest performance to Ryanair's load factor comes from seventh ranked Wizz Air, which achieved 91% in calendar 2023.

Passenger load factor for Europe's six leading airline groups, 2023*

Ryanair reported its highest-ever net profit of EUR1917 million for FY2024

Ryanair's FY2024 net profit was EUR1,917 million, which was up by 46% from the previous year and was the group's highest-ever result.

Total revenue grew by 25%, to EUR13,444 million, and operating profit increased by 43%, to EUR2,061 million.

The operating margin was 15.3% - this was an improvement of 1.9ppts from the year before and the highest since Ryanair reported 23.3% in FY2018.

Ryanair: operating profit and net profit, FY2004 to FY2024 (EUR millions)

Revenue per passenger reached its highest-ever level and rose faster than cost per passenger

The improvement in Ryanair's operating margin was the result of revenue per passenger rising more rapidly than cost per passenger.

Total revenue per passenger grew by 14.5%, to EUR73.2, which was the highest ever and 28% above the level of FY2020.

There was a 21% increase in average fares to EUR49.8, and a 3% increase in ancillary revenue per passenger to EUR23.4.

Total cost per passenger grew by 12% to reach EUR62.0, although ex fuel cost per passenger grew by 27%, and the overall increase was held down by an 8% drop in fuel cost per passenger.

Ryanair's operating margin was the highest of Europe's leading six airline groups

Based on its operating margin, Ryanair Group was the most profitable of Europe's six leading airline groups last year (based on results for the nearest financial year to calendar 2023 for each group).

Ryanair's operating margin of 15.3% compares with 12.8% for Turkish Airlines, 11.9% for IAG, 7.0% for Lufthansa Group, 5.8% for easyJet and 5.7% for Air France-KLM.

As the chart below illustrates, Ryanair has reported the strongest operating margins among Europe's leading airline groups in most years of the past two decades.

Operating margin (percentage of revenue) for Ryanair, Turkish Airlines, IAG, Lufthansa Group, easyJet, Air France-KLM and European airline average, 2005 to 2023

In FY2025 Ryanair expects 198-200 million passengers…

Looking ahead to FY2025 (year to Mar-2025), Ryanair aims to increase traffic by 8%, to 198-200 million passengers, provided that Boeing deliveries return to contracted levels before the end of the financial year.

It expects to have 158 Boeing 737 MAX8-200s by the end of Jul-2024, which is up from 146 at the end of Mar-2204 but 23 below its contracted deliveries.

…a modest increase in cost per passengers…

It expects that cost per passenger will increase only "modestly", as savings from fuel hedges help to mitigate increased pay and productivity costs, higher ground handling and ATC fees, and the impact of 737 MAX delivery delays on crewing ratios.

…and positive demand, but softer pricing than previously expected

Ryanair sees short haul capacity constraints in the market in Europe and positive demand, with bookings ahead of last year. Its northern summer schedule will be its largest ever.

However, as noted in the CAPA - Centre for Aviation report Europe aviation pricing: Ryanair lowers fare outlook, but inflation persists, the airline had already warned in Apr-2024 that it did not expect summer pricing to be as strong as previously expected.

In particular, the quarter to Jun-2024 is requiring more price stimulation (affected by different timing of Easter).

Nevertheless, it expects peak summer fares to be flat to modestly ahead of 2023.

FY2025 profits will depend on avoiding a number of risks

Ryanair has not given any profit guidance for FY2025, cautioning that the outcome will depend on how yields develop and on avoiding geopolitical and other risks outside management control.

These include those arising from conflicts in Ukraine and Middle East, ATC disruption, and any further Boeing delivery delays.

With strong cash generation, Ryanair will buy back EUR700 million of shares

Ryanair ended FY2024 with a net cash position (gross cash of EUR4.1 billion exceeded its debt of EUR2.7 billion) and it has one of the strongest balance sheets in the airline industry. It is rated BBB+ by both S&P and Fitch.

In Nov-2023 Ryanair announced its first-ever ordinary dividend of EUR400 million to be paid to shareholders. The first of two equal instalments was paid in Feb-2024 and the second is due in Sep-2024.

For subsequent financial years from FY2025, Ryanair also said that it plans to pay a regular annual dividend of approximately 25% of its net profit, as discussed in the CAPA - Centre for Aviation report Ryanair: dividend marks coming of age for Europe's leading airline group.

In addition, it has now approved a EUR700 million share buyback, which will bring the total cash returned to shareholders since FY2008 and FY2020 to more than EUR7.8 billion.

FY2034 aim for 300 million passengers and 800 aircraft

Ryanair's FY2025 traffic target raises the possibility that it will fairly soon be the first European airline group to carry 200 million passengers in a 12-month period.

Looking further ahead, it aims for 300 million passengers by FY2034, which would be more than double its traffic of FY2020 (the last pre-pandemic year).

To achieve this, Ryanair plans to increase its year-end fleet from 584 at the end of Mar-2024 to 800 by the end of FY2034, of which 300 will be Boeing 737 MAX10s, 210 will be MAX8-200s and 290 will be 737-800s.

A profit and cash machine

Many airline industry watchers have focused on Ryanair's commentary over the softening yield outlook. Given the strong rise in fares since before the COVID-19 crisis - driven by the unleashing of pent-up demand - pricing was always going to soften at some point.

Nevertheless, Ryanair still expects a year-on-year increase in peak summer fares this year.

Even with rising fares, Ryanair still offers a considerable discount to leading competitors' fares, thanks to lower cost per passenger (ex fuel: EUR34 per passenger, compared with the airline's nearest rival - Wizz Air's EUR47).

Europe's largest airline group by passenger numbers, Ryanair has the lowest cost per passenger, the lowest fares and the highest margins.

It is the nearest thing the European airline industry has to a profit and cash machine.

This article was written on 21-May-2024.

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