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Ryanair and Wizz Air traffic still down more than 80% as vaccine recovery hopes grow

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·3-min read
File photo dated 04/10/17 of a Ryanair plane. Ryanair said is preparing for a "hugely challenging" period to continue as it reported a loss of 197 million euro (�178 million) in the first half of the year.
Ryanair flights have plunged. Photo: PA

Ryanair (RYA.L) and Wizz Air (WIZZ.L) passenger numbers remain more than 80% below pre-virus levels, according to new figures underlining the crisis facing the travel industry.

Airline stocks have staged a significant recovery over the past month on vaccine hopes, but industry leaders have warned rollouts of a vaccine and the sector’s revival worldwide will take time.

The two London-listed low-cost airlines released up-to-date passenger data on Wednesday.

Ryanair figures show it flew 2 million passengers in November, down 82% on the 10.9 million flown in the same month last year.

Ryanair stocks on 2 December after a recovery in November. Chart: Yahoo Finance UK
Ryanair stocks on 2 December after a recovery in November. Chart: Yahoo Finance UK

Traffic over the past year totals 61.4 million, a 60% decline compared to the previous year. The Irish airline said the declines were “due to the impact of COVID-19 travel restrictions,” but released no further comment in the update to shareholders.

Ryanair’s outspoken chief executive Michael O’Leary has repeatedly criticised the UK government’s handling of the pandemic, including strict travel quarantine rules. He has also slammed state aid support for rivals.

READ MORE: Airline industry to make $118bn losses in 2020

Meanwhile Wizz Air said in its own update on November flying that passenger numbers were down 84.7% to 456,000. The airline ran at just 21% of capacity.

Total traffic in the year to 30 November came in at 19.3 million, a 50.6% decline.

WATCH: Airlines’ role in vaccine rollouts

It comes a week after the International Air Travel Association (IATA) warned the global airline industry would suffer a $118bn (£87bn) net loss in 2020 as the virus and restrictions have hammered the sector.

But a string of vaccine breakthroughs in November have seen hard-hit airline stocks stage a rapid recovery.

Ryanair stocks have risen by more than a quarter over the past month, and both Ryanair and Wizz Air stocks were trading on Wednesday at levels not seen since February.

While UK regulators became the first Western authorities to sign off the BioNTech (BNTX) and Pfizer (PFE) vaccine on Wednesday, the IATA’s forecasts for the global airline industry assume vaccines will be deployed in the second half of 2021.

“There will still be production and distribution challenges. As a result, the recovery of air travel demand will take time and be uneven between emerging and developed markets,” said the industry body in a statement last week.

“Hence, airlines will continue to face the challenge of controlling their cash burn.”

The IATA expects airlines worldwide to only stop burning cash in the final quarter of 2021. Chart: IATA Economics
The IATA expects airlines worldwide to only stop burning cash in the final quarter of 2021. Chart: IATA Economics

The IATA expects airlines worldwide to only stop burning cash in the final quarter of 2021, though it had previously anticipated continued losses until 2022.

“Government support or progress on the use of testing to accelerate market opening will be critical for the survival of airlines in many regions over the next 6-9 months.”

Ryanair stocks were down 1% and Wizz Air down 0.1% in mid-morning trading on the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday.

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