RYANAIR has cut its profit guidance as it highlighted the “sudden” removal of flights from online travel agent websites, while citing the impact of rising fuel costs, air traffic control strikes, aircraft delivery delays, and weaker than expected load factors in the third and fourth quarters.

Europe’s biggest airline has narrowed its guidance on profit after tax to between €1.85 billion and €1.95bn, from €1.85n to €2.05bn previously, though said its result for the full year “remains heavily dependent upon unforeseen adverse events”, citing the war in Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas conflict, and further Boeing delivery delays.

The company updated the City on the outlook as the airline reported a fall in third-quarter profits, despite a rise in traffic, as higher fuel costs offset revenue gains. It posted a profit after tax of €15 million for the three months to December 31, compared with €211m for the “bumper” comparable the year before and well below the €49m forecast.

While traffic and fares in the third quarter were ahead of the prior year, Ryanair said Christmas and New Year loads and yields were softer than previously expected as prices were lowered in response to the “sudden (but welcome) removal” of flights from OTA websites in early December.

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Ryanair has in recent years being doing battle with third party websites which it has accused of selling flights without its permission and at higher prices. It has also warned of complications for those who buy flights through OTAs, including difficulties in accessing booking details and discrepancies between services a customer believes they have bought and what has ultimately been agreed with Ryanair.

But it said today that it has recently struck deals with OTAs Love Holidays and Kiwi. Ryanair said the deals will allow customers of the OTAs to book flights directly on the airline’s website without inflating prices for seats or ancillary products.

Addressing the removal of Ryanair flights from many OTA sites in early December, the company said: “While damaging to our bookings and fares in the very short term, we welcomed this development as it brought a welcome respite to consumers from the overcharging practices of these OTAs.

“In mid-December, we received approaches from some of the bigger OTAs seeking to “partner” directly with Ryanair on similar terms to the transparent price comparison websites. We are very happy to have reached agreement with our first two approved OTA partners - Loveholidays.com and Kiwi.com. Both of these OTAs will now receive a direct feed from the Ryanair.com website thereby eliminating unlicensed screen-scraping or digital piracy.”

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Ryanair said 41.1m passengers had flown with the airline in the third quarter, higher than expected and 7% more than the same period in 2023. Passenger numbers were 10% higher at 146.8m for the year to date. Revenue in the third quarter increased by 17% higher to €2.7bn however operating costs were 26% higher at €2.72bn, which the firm said was mainly due to a 35% rise in fuels costs, higher staff costs and the earlier timing of maintenance.

Ryanair also addressed the delivery of new aircraft, which it said could be subject to further delay, following the temporary grounding of the Boeing MAX-9 in the US after a door plug blow-out in Alaska. The company said it had taken delivery of 136 B737 Gamechangers by the end of the third quarter and expects to have up to 174 in its fleet by late June. Noting that this would be seven short of its contracted deliveries, Ryanair said: “There remains a risk that some of these deliveries could slip further.”

The company added: “We continue to work closely with Boeing to minimise delivery delays and improve quality control in both Wichita and Seattle. While the recent MAX-9 grounding was a disappointing setback, we don't expect it to affect the MAX-8 fleet or the MAX-10 certification.”

Russ Mould, investment director at stockbroker AJ Bell, said: “Ryanair has never had a policy of making friends – with chief executive Michael O’Leary a living, breathing exemplar of its robust and combative approach.

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“However, its belligerence seems to have had a negative impact after it was cut from some booking sites in early December, seemingly over a wrangle about online agents scraping Ryanair fares from its own website. This is a key reason why the company is cutting its profit outlook.

“With O’Leary calling the firms in question ‘pirates’ when the issue the first came to light in early January the prospects for a rapprochement look slim. Shareholders will have to hope guidance for the issue to be a temporary one proves accurate.

“The other contributor to the earnings downgrade is likely to lead to wider turbulence in the sector as the company flagged a big increase in fuel costs. The recent rise in oil off the back of tensions in the Middle East could see this become an increasing issue for the industry.

“Finally, Ryanair is caught up in another hot button issue in the aviation sector as it faces the prospect of further delays on the delivery of new, more fuel-efficient, Boeing 787 MAX 8 aircraft. Despite Boeing being embroiled in a safety scandal, Ryanair has delivered a notable vote of confidence in the plane maker, offering to buy any 737 MAX 10 aircraft rejected by US airlines ‘at the right price’.”

Neil Shah, head of research at Edison Group, said: “Ryanair's results have been blown off course, though not unexpectedly, with the airline industry as a whole experiencing a turbulent time of late. Despite this, the projected profits still exceed Ryanair's record after-tax profit of €1.45bn in 2018.”