34 Years Of Low Cost Flights – How Ryanair Built An Empire

Ryanair is like Marmite. Some people love it, and others hate it. However, did you know that Ryanair this week celebrated their 34th birthday? Simple Flying takes a look at the airline’s history from humble beginnings to a European empire.

Ryanair History Boeing 737
Ryanair received its first Boeing 737 in 1995. Photo: Ryanair

Humble beginnings

Although Ryanair was founded in November 1984, it didn’t take its first flight until the 8th July 1985. The story of how the airline came to be named isn’t particularly exciting, as it simply stems from the name of airline’s founders, the Ryan family. Using a 15-seater Embraer Bandeirante,  Ryanair’s first route was just a short hop from Waterford in Ireland to London’s Gatwick airport. At the time of its launch, Ryanair had just 25 employees.

Fast forward a year, and things start to get interesting. The airline now has two 46-seater aircraft and was granted permission to fly from Dublin to London. The airline launched the route with fares at £99, and within a year of operation had carried 82,000 passengers.

Ryanair History European Empire
Ryanair launched London to Dublin flights with this 42 seater aircraft. Photo: Ryanair

The jet era arrives

In 1987, Ryanair began to operate jet aircraft. The airline chose to wet-lease three BAC1-11s, which was increased to six in the following year. While it may seem hard to believe, Ryanair launched business class seating on its jets and a frequent flyer scheme around 1988. However, both of these were abandoned a year later.

As good as things seemed, they were about to take a turn south.

At the end of the 80s, the airline had made a loss of £20 million which required £20 million more investment from the Ryan Family. This event saw the formation of the foundations of the Ryanair we know today.

The 1990s low-cost era

The European low-cost era was kicked off in the 1990s when Ryanair adopted Southwest Airlines’ successful model. This is when Ryanair moved to a single aircraft fleet, in addition to scrapping onboard meals. The cuts proved so successful for the airline that they were able to knock £40 off of return fees.

Ryanair History Boeing 737
Ryanair only operates the Boeing 737. Photo: Ryanair

In 1991, Ryanair moved its London base to Stansted Airport. This was clearly an important moment for the airline as, even today, Stansted is their largest hub airport. In 1995, the airline became an all-Boeing 737 airline.

1997 was an interesting year for Ryanair, as it saw the airline operate their first flights to Europe, following the deregulation of the scheduled airline business. Flights from Stansted were launched to Stockholm, and a year later Ryanair would go on to purchase 45 Boeing 737-800s at a cost of $2 billion.

The 2000s

In January 2000, Ryanair launched its first website. While it looks terrible compared to today’s standards, at the time it was huge. The website was soon taking 50,000 bookings a week and Ryanair decided to make it the only place to buy tickets. It was built by 17-year-old schoolboys at a cost of £20,000.

Ryanair History First Website
Ryanair’s first website. Photo: Ryanair

In 2002, things really became serious for the airline. Their order of 45 Boeing 737s was upped to 125 with 125 more options. A year later the airline acquired Buzz, a brand it hopes to reignite later this year. Towards the end of the decade, in 2009, the airline was carrying 66.5 million passengers for an average fare of €35.

2010s low-cost empire

By 2010, Ryanair had amassed a fleet of 272 Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Indeed, at this point, the airline operates a number of bases across Europe and, despite several setbacks, continues to flourish. By the end of the year, the airline had 44 bases and over 1,300 routes.

Ryanair History low cost airline
Ryanair’s 34 years of history certainly makes for interesting reading. Photo: Ryanair

In 2013, the low-cost carrier placed another order with Boeing, this time for 175 aircraft. However, just a year later this order was increased to 183 Boeing 737-800 aircraft, and 200 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, often referred to by the Irish carrier as the Boeing 737 Gamechanger.

In 2015, the airline celebrated its 30th anniversary, and in the same year carried over 100 million passengers. The airline also revamped its website and its aircraft interiors. Last year Ryanair launched its first subsidiary in Poland, Ryanair Sun which is due to be rebranded to Buzz. The airline additionally purchased shares in Laudamotion.

Ryanair History Laudamotion
Ryanair finished acquiring Laudamotion in January. Photo: Ryanair

In January, the Irish low-cost airline finalized its acquisition of Laudamotion. Last month, the carrier announced the formation of a new subsidiary under a Maltese AOC, Malta Air. Today the airline announced plans to fly to Lebanon. With the airline now commanding an empire across Europe, who knows what the next 34 years will bring?

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