Ryanair takes aim at Aer Lingus with new Brussels route
Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary said the airline is targeting a 60pc share of all passenger traffic between Dublin and Brussels' two airports.
From October 26, Ryanair will fly three times a day between Dublin and Brussels Zaventem, Belgium's biggest airport. It handles about 19 million passengers a year - a similar amount to Dublin.
Aer Lingus is the only operator currently flying to Zaventem from Dublin. Ryanair already operates to Brussels Charleroi, and will continue to serve the airport with one flight a day from Dublin.
"We're staying in Charleroi," said Ryanair's chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs. "Charleroi is a great airport. Zaventem and Charleroi do work as a pair."
Mr O'Leary said passengers will be able to interchange their flights to Zaventem and Charleroi.
"If you've booked on one of our Zaventem flights but want to come back on the Charleroi flight, no problem," he said.
Charleroi is over 40km from central Brussels, while Zaventem is just 11km away.
Mr O'Leary said that Aer Lingus currently has a 60pc share of all combined traffic between Dublin and the two Brussels airports, with Ryanair holding 40pc.
"We'd expect that to invert," said the chief executive. At Zaventem alone, Mr O'Leary said Ryanair also expects to capture 60pc of both business and leisure traffic from Dublin.
He said the airline's target is to take 70pc of all business traffic between Dublin and Brussels Zaventem.
Mr O'Leary said Ryanair is already securing more business traveller bookings across its network.
"The percentage of people travelling with Ryanair on business was in the low twenties, but is rising currently to about 26pc or 27pc," he said.
Mr O'Leary also said that load factor and forward bookings at Ryanair are "six or seven percentage points ahead".
The push by Ryanair will certainly put pressure on Aer Lingus to cut fares to Zaventem.
Ryanair's cheapest flights to the airport will start at €19.99, which it claims is 60pc cheaper than the cheapest fare on offer from Aer Lingus.
Mr O'Leary insisted that Ryanair will attempt to effectively cap its same-day return fare between Dublin and Zaventem at around €200. He said additional frequencies will be operated if demand supports such a move, helping to keep even its highest fares lower than the most expensive tickets currently sold by Aer Lingus on the route.
A same-day return flight between Dublin and Brussels with Aer Lingus can cost around €120 if booked well in advance. But Mr O'Leary pointed out that business travel arrangements are often made at relatively short notice.
Ryanair is increasing its services and frequencies at primary airports in Europe as it prepares the ground for the launch of its new business fare products, which it's expected to unveil next week.
Mr O'Leary was travelling to Cyprus yesterday afternoon to continue discussions with the government there about a possible acquisition of struggling Cyprus Airways.
He said Ryanair would retain the Cyprus Airways brand if it's successful in buying the business.
"We are engaged in the process and hope something will come of it," he said. "It's a very political process down there."