The boss of Ryanair is forecasting „a strong return“ for European beach holidays this summer thanks to the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
Michael O’Leary said he expected travel restrictions to be dropped once high risk groups were inoculated, unleashing „pent up demand“.
It came as the airline warned it was in the midst of „the most challenging year“ in its 35-year history.
It expects annual losses of up to €1bn (£870m) for the year to March 2021.
Despite this, Mr O’Leary told the BBC’s Today programme that he was „heartened“ by the fact the UK expected to vaccinate everyone over 50 by the end of March, and that Europe would achieve the same by June.
„So we think once all those high risk groups – the elderly, the NHS, nursing homes – have been vaccinated then the travel restrictions should be removed, particularly on short haul intra European travel,“ he said.
„So we expect to see a very strong return of British families travelling to the beaches of Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece in relative safety this summer.“
Last month, EasyJet said it had seen summer bookings rise by 250%, but it said the cost of pre-departure coronavirus tests – which cost up to £150 per person – was still a deterrent.
Opportunity to expand
The Covid pandemic has caused the closure of some EU airlines, including Flybe, Germanwings and Level.
But Mr O’Leary said Ryanair would not need to seek a bailout and that the failure of other airlines presented an opportunity to expand.
The company announced losses of €307m for the three months to 31 December, as the number of passengers it carried fell to 8.1 million from 35.9 million a year earlier.
The loss for the quarter contrasts with an €88m profit after tax in the same period a year before.
The airline said that recently-announced Covid lockdowns and travel restrictions across the EU and UK would continue to stifle demand in early 2021.
But it added: „As we look beyond the Covid-19 crisis, and vaccinations roll out, the Ryanair Group expects to have a much lower cost base and a strong balance sheet.
„[That] will enable it to fund lower fares and add lower-cost aircraft to capitalise on the many growth opportunities that will be available in all markets across Europe, especially where competitor airlines have substantially cut capacity or failed.“