RYANAIR has said it has suffered its most challenging quarter to date and added a second wave of coronavirus is now its “biggest fear”.

The low-cost airline, like its competitors, was forced to ground its fleet as Covid-19 wreaked havoc on timetables with travel bans and lockdowns introduced worldwide.

It reported a loss of €185 million (£168m).

Restrictions saw the company carry 500,000 passengers in the first quarter compared with 41.9 million in the same period last year, while revenue sank from €2.3 billion (£2.1bn) to €125m (£113m).

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The company said: “The past quarter was the most challenging in Ryanair’s 35-year history.

“Covid-19 grounded the group’s fleet for almost four months (from mid-March to end June) as EU governments imposed flight or travel bans and widespread population lockdowns.

“During this time, group airlines repatriated customers and operated rescue flights for different EU governments, as well as flying a series of medical emergency/PPE flights across Europe.”

Flights were resumed on July 1, and the company said it aimed to operate around 40 per cent of its normal July schedule, increasing to 60% in August and 70% in September.

Ryanair Holdings plc said it expected air travel to be depressed in Europe for the next two to three years, adding: “This will create opportunities for Ryanair to grow its network, and expand its fleet, to take advantage of lower airport and aircraft cost opportunities that will inevitably arise.”

It added that it could not provide any guidance for profits in this financial year, but added that it expected to carry 60 million passengers this year.

It said: “It is impossible to predict how long the Covid-19 pandemic will persist, and a second wave of Covid-19 cases across Europe in late autumn (when the annual flu season commences) is our biggest fear right now.” It said it is hoped safety measures will mean “avoiding the need for further restrictions on intra-EU flights”. Shares closed down 3.8% at €10.48.