Ryanair Holdings Plc grew at more than twice the pace of EasyJet Plc last year, taking its annual passenger tally above 100 million for the first time, as Europe’s two biggest low-cost carriers tapped a surge in leisure travel and stepped up efforts to win traffic from network rivals.
Ryanair boosted customer numbers 17 percent to 101.4 million in 2015, up from 86.4 million a year earlier, while EasyJet lifted its tally 7 percent to 69.8 million. Both flew their planes more than 90 percent full on average, though the Irish company said fares softened in December after the Paris attacks.
Like Luton, England-based EasyJet, Ryanair has also refined its pitch to business passengers by adding options such as speedy boarding and allocated seating, turning the screw on network carriers such as Air France-KLM Group, which is seeking to slash employee costs to stem short-haul losses.
Ryanair’s load factor, a measure of seat occupancy, has risen 10 percentage points over the past two years, even as it has increased capacity 33 percent by adding flights and planes, Nomura analyst James Hollins said in a note. The figure averaged 92 percent in 2015, while EasyJet planes flew 90.8 percent full.
Ryanair’s December traffic increased 25 percent to 7.5 million people, spurred by a decline in fares following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 130, the carrier said in a statement.
EasyJet posted a 4.6 percent gain to 4.85 million passengers, even after a predicted reduction in bookings for the weeks after the attacks, it said. The carrier is the second-biggest in France, where it deployed about 23 percent of total capacity last month.
While seat occupancy declined by 0.8 points in December, “load factors are now recovering to normal levels and management do not anticipate any change to full year market expectations,” it said.
EasyJet shares traded 3.1 percent lower as of 9:33 a.m. in London, while Ryanair was 4.1 percent lower in Dublin as the Stoxx Europe 600 Index sank to a three-month low amid concerns about the impact of slowing Chinese growth on the world economy.