Sunday 25 February 2018

Business Travel: 'There'll be barbed wire on border if Europe gets its way'

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary at a briefing in the Davenport Hotel, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary at a briefing in the Davenport Hotel, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

Ryanair press conferences never fail to deliver - and having CEO Michael O'Leary announcing results is akin to getting a raucous Twitter mob to deliver a church sermon.

It's 65 minutes of scatter-gun shots aimed at a variety of targets both old and new. Few are spared. A rival newspaper is slagged off for not arriving on time. Michael eyes the media pack eating macaroons, arguing "it's far from macaroons you were raised". A respected business journalist (not in the room) gets panned for his views, while civil servants and unions - and even the Dublin football team - suffer the boot too.

Here's a sample: On pedestrianising Dublin - "I'm all in favour of shooting cyclists"; the airport's Terminal 2 - " a rubbish facility, built for shoppers, not airlines"; or some of his old foes at the Dublin Airport Authority - "deadbeats ... you cannot trust the DAA with any plan".

Agree or not, it's all highly entertaining, and a far cry from the fuel-hedging stats or passenger figures you'd be fed from the likes of Lufthansa.

In between the potshots, O'Leary is a mine of information - with strongly held views - on the state of aviation.

As one of the most high-profile Remain campaigners he has an apocalyptic view of a Europe without the UK, and believes that aviation agreements which allow intra-European flights are the elephant in the room.

"There is going to be a hard Brexit - we think it's inevitable at the moment unless the UK changes its disposition and remains in Open Skies and that could well lead to significant disruption to flights from March 2019 onwards," he said.

If the UK doesn't recognise European Court of Justice rulings, and accept free movement of people, they're out of Open Skies, he said. Given that border controls was a key seller to Brexit voters, London won't accept freedom of movement, so it's in a bind.

"We think there is a real likelihood that for a period of time after March 2019 ... there's no basis under which airlines can fly from the UK to Europe or Europe to the UK. There's no doubt that our friends in Lufthansa and Air France are actively lobbying the Europeans to hold a hard line there and cut off flights to and from the UK."

And he did manage to lighten the mood, adding: "The British electorate will begin to understand that Brexit is a dumb idea. It's all great talking about controlling your borders but when that means you have to go on your holidays in Scotland instead of Spain or Italy or Greece it might soften their cough a little bit."

Reckoning that we all might be "back on the boats", he said a hard border in Ireland looks more likely and "there'll be barbed wire on the Border if the Europeans get their way".

Ryanair's tie-in with long-haul carrier Air Europa will open up a lot of South American routes to Irish business travellers - "exciting places where Michael D Higgins tends to go to on his summer holidays", as O'Leary put it.

And chief commercial officer David O'Brien said that more transfer-passenger moves are in the offing, with Aer Lingus and Norwegian named, which will see Ryanair's short-haul passengers transferring on to transatlantic routes.

n The DAA is going to have a headache filling the shoes of CEO Kevin Toland, who's departing later this year. He'll be earning a lot of dough with baker Aryzta - and good luck to him - but the airport authority reckons it will be tough to find a replacement, given the semi-State salary cap of €250,000 a year. DAA insiders tell me Toland will be a "huge loss" and even Michael O'Leary said he was "a breath of fresh air".

"For Ireland to ignore what chief executives [in the private sector] are paid is not good policy," DAA chairman Padraig Ó Riordáin told me, adding that the value the likes of Toland give to the economy in terms of jobs and passenger spending here should be reflected in his, or her, salary.

But O'Leary might have a solution. "I think the salary cap is a good idea. I'll happily run the DAA for free. I'd certainly get it back on a growth trajectory and I'd do it on a part-time basis while I'm still running Ryanair," he told me.

Don't hold your breath, Michael.

Meanwhile, Dublin Airport got a little more breathing space this week, with four new boarding gates in the Pier 1 boarding area, and another gate due this autumn at T2 - nine in all. But expect a lot more of those dreaded buses to your planes, with Kevin Toland saying that the airport is the most under-used in Europe.

Sunday Indo Business

Promoted Links

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Promoted Links

Also in Business