Ryanair calls on authorities for incentives to expand flight operations in Catalonia

"We want to continue to grow here," CEO of Irish airline says, hailing "strong summer" season

A Ryanair plane in Girona airport (by Aleix Freixas)
A Ryanair plane in Girona airport (by Aleix Freixas) / Gerard Escaich Folch

Gerard Escaich Folch | Barcelona

September 8, 2022 10:39 AM

Barcelona has the most important airport in Catalonia with dozens of daily flights carrying millions of passengers each year. But it is not the only one; Reus in the south and Girona in the north can feel proud of their infrastructure too, as does Ryanair CEO Eddie Wilson when recalling the first journeys the company made in the territory.

"We opened our operations in Girona in December 2002, with our first flight to Frankfurt," Eddie Wilson, CEO of the Irish company, recounted during an interview with Catalan News.

"People thought we were crazy," he added, before saying that Ryanair had "grown that market" and made everyone else "more competitive." 

Despite moving the vast majority of its operations to the Catalan capital, the company still has a base in the northern region of Girona, albeit only a summer season operational hub. AENA, the Spanish airports' manager, does not put enough incentives for Ryanair "to put in traffic there during the winter," Wilson said.

Reus, on the other hand, has been a key player in Ryanair’s operations in Catalonia, but the airline does not have a base there anymore after closing it in 2011 after contracts were "breached" by the Catalan government, Wilson claims.

Although, "Reus saw a very strong summer season" Wilson said before announcing that if authorities offer incentives, the airline could "come up with more routes out of Girona and Reus airports," and "would not rule out" reopening the Reus base again.

Ryanair closes down its base in Girona airport during winter, while Ryanair have announced three new routes connecting with the Catalan capital to Frankfurt-Hahn, Bordeaux, and Newcastle.

Barcelona’s airport expansion

"I think an airport has got to reflect the city and the region that it serves," Eddie Wilson said to this media outlet when talking about a hypothetical airport expansion in the Catalan capital.

This has been a controversial debate in the territory, as some political parties and civil society organizations are in favor of expanding the infrastructure, while others reject it based on environmental concerns. 

The proposed plans to construct a satellite terminal came to a head in August 2021, when Spain and the Catalan government had to reach an agreement worth €1.7 billion in investments for the facility.

But, after discussing the matter throughout the summer, the deal eventually fell through

Now, Ryanair’s CEO considers that "it’s not all just about tourists, it is about small businesses, it's about people coming here to college or friends or relatives or bringing your kids to college,” before adding a warning that “a city that constrains that may come to regret it."

Comparing Barcelona to Málaga, for example, Wilson explained that the southern airport is "growing strongly" and some major American banks and even Google are relocating there. 

Although, the CEO of the Irish airline hopes Barcelona will “see the light," and grow its capacity while remaining "sensitive to the environment."

Cabin crew strike

For months, the trade unions USO and SITCPLA, two of the biggest representing Ryanair cabin crew, have been striking and protesting against work conditions. Since the protest started, many flights have been canceled throughout the summer with hundreds delayed. 

However, this is not causing any effects on the company the CEO claims, after negotiating with workers "for many years." 

"It is a question of the people who sit at the table. I sat at the table for many years, and you've got to be able to reach an agreement. They were not able to reach an agreement over four years, and our cabin crew tired of that and they've now gone with CCOO, and we've got a good agreement there, I think. We're not going to get everything we want either. But as I said before, it's like a marriage. You have to stop shouting at some time and enjoy life," he humorously said.

Currently, workers are called in to strike until January 2023.

End of low fares?

Catalonia is living an inflation crisis with prices skyrocketing month by month, especially those related to energy and fuel. 

With the cost of living rising, flying is also likely to be affected, with airlines restricting their offers and putting an end to the low fares Ryanair’s passengers are used to. 

The CEO defends the idea of changing the average price from €40 to €50 "as the market has gotten smaller," and "once the market gets smaller, prices do go up," he stated.

"But what I would like to say to people watching here today is that fares are going up faster with our competitors because they're less efficient than we are. And I think we're going to see more people flying with Ryanair," he hopes. 

The summer season has been very "strong," leaving great foundations to reach pre-pandemic profit figures, but "this winter is going to be fragile," because competitors will raise prices even more, and the company expects to see an increase in passengers choosing Ryanair when flying across Europe.