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Ryanair nears annual passenger count of role model Southwest; beats it on low costs and margins

Jul-2017 was another record month for Ryanair. It carried 12.6 million customers – the first European airline exceeding 12 million in a month – and its load factor increased by 1ppt, to 97%, its highest ever. The airline also said that it had carried its one billionth customer since its first flight in 1985 – the first EU airline to do so.

Ryanair is now close to the annual passenger count of Southwest Airlines, its original template when it adopted the LCC business model back in the 1990s. In the 12 months to Jul-2017 Ryanair carried 125.1 million passengers, only 2% below the 128.1 revenue passengers carried by Southwest Airlines. The pupil seems certain to overtake the master at some point in the next year or two.

This prompts a comparison of Ryanair with Southwest on a number of other measures of size and performance.

Ryanair has a smaller fleet, but a bigger network. However, Southwest's network and schedule are denser, with higher frequencies and an important component of connecting traffic, whereas Ryanair focuses on point-to-point (even after the launch of a connecting product). In the judgement of both as low cost airlines, Ryanair's significantly lower unit cost and its higher margins make it the more successful.

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