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Ryanair December traffic up 3% on pre-pandemic levels

FILE PHOTO: A Ryanair Boeing 737 airplane takes off from the airport in Palma de Mallorca

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ryanair flew 11.5 million passengers in December, up 3% on its previous pre-COVID high for the Christmas travel period, Europe's largest airline by passenger numbers said on Wednesday.

Ryanair expects to fly 166.5 million passengers in the year to the end of March, far ahead of its previous record of 149 million.

It has reported flying more passengers than the corresponding pre-pandemic period in each of the last nine months.

CEO Michael O'Leary had flagged at the start of December that Christmas bookings were running ahead of 2019 levels, with average air fares also up by a low double-digit percentage as passengers travelled without restrictions for the first time in three years.

Ryanair flew 9.5 million passengers last December and just 1.9 million in December 2020.

The average proportion of empty seats per flight held steady at 8% for the second successive month in December and compared to 5% in December 2019.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Andrew Heavens)