Ryanair upgrades profit forecasts

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Ryanair defended an 8pc rise in average fares over the winter as “commendable” given soaring aviation fuel bills, as it upgraded full-year profit forecasts.

The low cost carrier expects profits to reach €540m (£463m) in the year to March 31, up from previous guidance of €490m-€520m, after it experienced strong demand from passengers in northern Europe.

Ryanair carried an extra 600,000 passengers during the final three months of 2012 - its third quarter - as low cost carriers benefited from debt-laden legacy carriers cutting back on flights.

An 8pc rise in average fares helped boost revenue 15pc to €969m. Pre-tax profits rose 21pc to €18.1m during the period, which is traditionally when many airlines shoulder a loss.

Michael Cawley, deputy chief executive of Ryanair, said the jump in average fares to €50 was “pretty commendable” in the “context of a 24pc increase in fuel”, claiming that the average price offered by its nearest rival easyJet was 58pc higher.

Analysts at Liberum said they expected one more profit upgrade from Ryanair before the end of the financial year as it benefits from network carriers and weaker airlines “restructuring for survival”.

Ryanair expects to carry 79m passengers this year, up 4pc, but believes it can grow to 120m over the next decade as it gains further market share from enfeebled flag airlines, which are slashing costs and capacity.

Mr Cawley said talks with Boeing (NYSE: BA - news) over a new aircraft order were ongoing but a deal was likely to materialise until the end of the year.

Ryanair is stalking Irish rival Aer Lingus (Other OTC: AELGF - news) and said on Monday that is has submitted a “radical and unprecedented” package of remedies to the European Commission in a bid to gain regulatory approval for its latest takeover attempt.

“This will be the first EU airline merger which will deliver structural divestitures and multiple upfront buyers,” said Michael OLeary, Ryanair’s chief executive.

Both British Airways and Flybe have held discussions with Ryanair about taking over some Aer Lingus routes.

Meanwhile easyJet shares lost altitude on Monday, closing down 9.5 at 935.5p, as investors reacted to the news that its chairman, Sir Michael Rake, will step down in the summer. Deputy chairman Charles Gurassa is favourite to replace him.