After 20 years of carefully crafting Ryanair’s route network, its former director of new route development, Bernard Berger, is now starting a new role at GMR in India, saying the most satisfying part of his job over the past two decades has undoubtedly been the role that Ryanair has played in changing the economic and social face of Europe.
“The bureaucrats in Brussels waffle on, but at Ryanair we have actually made it happen. We have done more to unify the people in Europe economically and physically than any Brussels bureaucrat would ever dream of doing,” states Berger.
“Looking at Europe’s landmass, and seeing the number of routes that I have personally worked on developing, is amazing. I have been involved in creating business and tourist links and the creating and sustaining employment all over the continent.”
He points to Sardinia in Italy as a prime example of a destination that has had its economy transformed thanks to low-cost travel. “When I first went to Sardinia in 1998 it was a sleepy place with a small airport and very seasonal tourism. There were just a handful of charter flights from overseas and no scheduled flights, whereas today there are millions of passengers flying in and out of the two largest Sardinian airports. This is linking a place that was culturally and economically cut off from the rest of Europe and putting in on the map.”
And Berger believes that the benefits brought by LCCs to this type of destination stretches far beyond mere tourism revenue.
“In Sardinia, you don’t only see tourists going there, you see many young local people being able to enjoy work and culture opportunities that their parents could never even have dreamed of. Being part of bringing life and injecting economic activity into a location like this has been very rewarding personally, as has been working with open minded airports and local government authorities to bring this type of experience to fruition,” he says.
Now, Berger is joining GMR, based at Delhi International Airport – something that he describes as a “fantastic opportunity” – and will also have a role in the development of traffic into Hyderabad.
“Given that Ryanair has been very involved in creative new ways with airports to create business, I will be able to bring those experiences to bear in a new environment,” he believes.
Despite the drop in traffic across Europe, Ryanair continues to grow its portfolio of airport bases, with 35 across the continent. Its fleet is currently in the region of 173 aircraft, which is expected to total 200 by the end of the year. But what is significant in the current economic environment is Ryanair’s move away from its traditional Ireland and UK markets and its diversification into the rest of Europe and North Africa.
“There has been a reduction in demand from the UK and Ireland and so we have moved three aircraft from Dublin; two from Shannon; there are two aircraft that we won’t be flying from Stansted this summer that were flying last summer and we have removed an aircraft from Liverpool,” he says.
This additional capacity has been moved into the Spanish and Italian markets, and along with these two key countries, Ryanair is also showing growing interest in the Balkan and North African states.
“We are certainly going to become the biggest airline in Italy and the second largest in Spain. In fact, we will be the largest airline in Spain for intra-European travel. We have recently opened bases in Italy in Cagliari, Alghero, Bologna, Trapani and Sicily and there are further opportunities in that market to grow existing bases and to open up a number of new bases in Italy. The same is true in Spain,” Berger states.
He also points out that Morocco continues to present a number of opportunities, as does Tunisia, particularly with a new open skies agreement with the EU on the horizon there, while the Balkan states (Croatia in particular) present another growth hotspot.
Ryanair has traditionally followed this type of aggressive portfolio diversification, but recently its arch-rival Aer Lingus has also been some showing signs of spreading its wings beyond its traditional Dublin base, something that Berger believes will only bring it limited success.
“Aer Lingus now has four aircraft in Belfast and four in Gatwick. But having a portfolio that is only dedicated to the UK and Ireland is not great in this economic environment, whereas Ryanair has operating bases all over Europe and is positioned to move around its aircraft. Aer Lingus may have diversified away from having a purely Republic of Ireland presence but what have they diversified to? It is sort of out of the fire and into the flame,” he muses.
And while Berger prepares to pack his bags for India and the many tough challenges he will face in that dynamic market, he firmly believes that Ryanair will continue to thrive in Europe for years to come.
“Ryanair is certainly one of the key airlines that will not only be around, but will continue expanding. We are continuing with all our planned aircraft deliveries from Boeing and we will continue to do so in the years ahead.”
On that optimistic note, its bon voyage as Berger heads to the world’s seventh biggest country, where the opportunity to grow new markets and open up new destinations remains vast.
TAKING THE REINS:
Ken O’Toole has been appointed director of new route development at Ryanair, where he will be responsible for the expansion and management of the route network, aircraft fleet allocation, commercial relationships with airports and reducing airport costs. O’Toole was previously head of scheduled revenue at the airline, with specific responsibility for the Scandinavian, German and Dutch markets. “Since 2000, Ryanair has increased its route network from a mere 36 routes to over 800 routes today. In the immediate term we forecast a 15% rise in passenger traffic from 58.4 million to 67 million between 2009 and 2010. Ryanair is the only airline capable of delivering this level of growth and I am confident that Ken, with his commercial background and Ryanair experience to date, will significantly shape the future of Ryanair and that of the European air transport industry,” says Ryanair’s deputy chief executive, Michael Cawley.
This article is featured in Routes News 2009 Issue 3