Is Ryanair’s Growth Confined To Europe?

With news of Ryanair’s new acquisition of a Maltese startup, what’s next for the Irish low cost carrier? Could we see them launching into Africa more deeply, or even breaking into the competitive transatlantic market?

Ryanair aircraft on apron.
Where will Ryanair go next? Photo: Ryanair.

Irish low cost airline Ryanair seem almost unstoppable right now. On the back of their recent purchase of Laudamotion, they’ve now acquired start up airline Malta Air, and are busy establishing a base on the Mediterranean island. This acquisition is particularly interesting, given its proximity to northern Africa, leading us to pose the question – will Ryanair grow outside of Europe?

The question is a little ambiguous, because the Irish airline does already have some ex-European destinations in its schedule. These include a number of destinations in Israel, Jordan and Morocco, all of which are just a stone’s throw from the borders of Europe.

But will they expand their reach any further?

Would Ryanair fly transatlantic?

When Ryanair ordered  135 of the new 737 MAX planes, with a special 200 seat configuration, the world held its breath to see what new routes would be announced. With the better fuel efficiency of the MAX, the Irish carrier could feasibly reach the east coast of the US, so would it begin transatlantic journeys?

Range of 737 MAX at Dublin
The 737 MAX can reach the US from Dublin. Image: GCMap

Way back in 2015, Ryanair was talking to Boeing and Airbus about long haul solutions, and was reportedly looking at around 10 US destinations, However, that idea appears to have been firmly shelved. When the Irish Independent asked Ryanair in 2017 about transatlantic trips, it was clear that this wasn’t on the cards for the carrier. They quoted,

“…there is plenty of capacity and growth opportunities for Ryanair in Europe, we are solely focused on European growth currently,”

The order for the 737 MAX has been in place since 2014, although the carrier is yet to receive any of the aircraft. They specifically went for the MAX 200, a high density configuration of the popular plane, dubbed by Ryanair a ‘gamechanger’. It could go to the US from Dublin, but it wouldn’t be a pleasant experience, and Ryanair are acutely aware that they’d be up against stiff competition from carriers such as Norwegian.

Ryanair Max
Ryanair are yet to receive the MAX. Photo: Ryanair

For now, it seems that the hop across the pond is a step too far for the low cost airline. They prefer instead to partner with other airlines. Air Europa are their main partner for transatlantic trips, although there have been murmurings in the past about teaming up with Norwegian or fellow Irish carrier Aer Lingus too.

What about Africa?

Ryanair are already flying to several destinations in Morocco and to Tunis in northern Africa, but that’s as far as it goes. With a base in Malta, the potential for the airline to reach a huge proportion of central, eastern and western Africa too has just opened up.

Range of 737 MAX at Malta
The 737 MAX can reach much of Africa from Malta. Image: GCMap

According to Skift, Kenya are desperate for an airline  like Ryanair to start flying into the nation. Mombasa airport are reportedly developing a strategy to “encourage low-cost carriers from the U.K. to fly here,”, and are in talks with both Ryanair and easyJet about operations to the country.

Ryanair have already planned to move aircraft from France, Italy and Germany to the Maltese AOC, partly for the beneficial tax they pay there, but also to start growing the (currently nonexistent) fleet. Speaking in a press release about the acquisition, CEO Michael O’Leary said,

“Malta Air will proudly fly the Maltese name and flag to over 60 destinations across Europe and North Africa as we look to grow our Maltese based fleet, routes, traffic and jobs over the next three years.                                                    

“Ryanair appreciates the expertise of the Maltese Civil Aviation Directorate (CAD) in licensing Malta Air to operate the B737 aircraft and we look forward to working closely with the Maltese authorities over the coming years as we hope to add over 50 more aircraft to the Maltese register.”

Malta Air
An artists mock-up of the Malta Air livery Photo: Ryanair/Malta Air

While Kenya is an interesting proposition, and certainly attractive to tourists, the question of whether it would work for Ryanair remains to be seen. Other destinations which could be on the cards for the low cost leisure carrier may include Egypt and Dar Es Salaam, all within reach of the capable 737 MAX.

Of course, all this depends on the MAX getting re-certified to fly. We’ll be watching with interest to see where Ryanair head to next.