Ryanair beats forecasts again as annual profits rise 66 pct

DUBLIN (AP) — Europe’s leading budget airline, Ryanair, has beaten forecasts again, reporting full-year net profits of 867 million euros ($949 million), 66 percent higher than the year before.

The Dublin-based airline said Tuesday it filled 88 percent of its seats, up 5 points, in the fiscal year ending in March. Sales rose 12 percent to 5.65 billion euros ($6.2 billion) chiefly because of relentless route expansion combined with the impact of the airline’s 2014 decision to improve customer service.

Shares in the airline surged 7 percent to 11.60 euros ($12.65) in the first hour of trade on the Irish Stock Exchange, before easing back down somewhat.

Ryanair over the past year raised its profit forecast five times to 850 million euros. It unveiled a target for the fiscal year 2016 of between 940 million euros and 970 million euros.

Davy Stockbrokers called Ryanair’s forecast “very robust.” The Dublin broker said it now expects Ryanair soon will reach a share price of 12 euros, a level last reached in February 2007 right before the airline conducted a 2-for-1 share split.

Profits would be even higher if it weren’t for Ryanair’s policy of buying fuel contracts far in advance. That has locked in last year’s much higher oil prices at an average of $92 a barrel through the spring of 2016. The airline says it’s negotiated cheaper contracts averaging $68 a barrel thereafter.

Ryanair carried 90.6 million passengers in the fiscal year 2015, up 11 percent, and aims to break the 100 million mark this year.

Chief Executive Michael O’Leary said advance bookings are running 4 percent higher than last year, which should help the carrier fill 90 percent of its seats in fiscal year 2016.

O’Leary said a key issue slowing Ryanair’s growth is slow airport development for London. He called for the British government and regulators, which have debated the issue for years, to approve new runways at the capital’s Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports. Ryanair doesn’t use Heathrow, but Stansted is Ryanair’s biggest European hub.

Ryanair shares have risen more than 60 percent in the past year, leading the European airline sector. Founded in 1985 with a single Ireland-England turboprop route, the carrier today uses 320 Boeing 737s to serve 1,600 routes to 30 countries in Europe and North Africa, and has orders for 383 more Boeings.

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