Ryanair group chief executive Michael O'Leary has defended a share incentive plan that could earn him as much as €100m over the next five years, even as the airline continues with plans to cut as many as 700 staff.
The outspoken boss was awarded the 10 million share options earlier this year. He already owns 3.9pc of the airline - a stake currently valued at €435m.
He said the huge potential payout was necessary to "encourage" him to keep working at the airline for the next five years.
The share incentive package was criticised by one institutional shareholder group during the airline's annual general meeting yesterday.
"I understand the criticism, but if you look at my new package for the next five years, I've taken a pay cut of 50pc. If I double the share price and if I double the profits in the next five years, I receive a large quantity of share options," he said.
"I don't think there's an investor in that room who would begrudge a larger number of share options if I double their investment in the next five years," Mr O'Leary added.
However, Ryanair's remuneration report, which included the share option award, was only narrowly approved by shareholders yesterday in a so-called 'say-on-pay' - an embarrassing put-down for the company.
Mr O'Leary agreed to a new five-year contract that will keep him at the airline until at least July 2024. As part of the deal, he took a 50pc cut in his annual pay, from €1m to €500,000 and a 50pc cut to his maximum annual bonus.
The 10 million share options are exercisable at €11.12 per share, if the airline's profits exceed €2bn in any one year up to 2024, or if the share price exceeds €21 for a period of 28 days between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2024.
Mr O'Leary said the potential €100m share plan aligned his interests with shareholders.
"I'm not taking a big salary, I'm not taking a big bonus," he said. "I get nothing if I don't double the share price [and] don't double the profit."
Asked why he needed the share options to align his interests with shareholders when he already owned a sizeable stake in the airline, Mr O'Leary said: "You want me to go and work at it for the next five years, you need to encourage me."
He said that signing up to the carrier for the next five years made him "uncomfortable".
"It feels a bit like a prison sentence," he added.
Mr O'Leary said he wouldn't have stayed for the next five years if "it wasn't made interesting for me for the next five years".
"I don't need the money," he said. "It's a free bet for shareholders."
The cost to the company of granting the share options to Mr O'Leary is about €1.6m a year for the next five years.
He confirmed that Ryanair is looking for between 500 and 700 lay-offs, but said the precise number would depend on when Boeing's troubled Max aircraft can start flying again.
"At the moment, we have 500 surplus pilots," he explained. "We are already engaged in discussions with unions and with particular bases."
Ryanair has about 400 pilots in Dublin, and may need to cut about 10 or 20 of those. It's closing its Belfast base and Mr O'Leary said there could be reductions at Dublin.