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Ryanair spreads its wings, lands in Prague

It’s no secret that low-cost airlines are a threat to their traditional rivals and that more and more keep arriving in the Czech Republic. Europe’s largest “no frills” carrier Ryanair has now added the Czech capital to its range of destinations.

The Irish airline, which is launching a round trip Dublin to Prague service November 7, will become the 14th low-cost airline to operate out of Prague in the 2007–08 winter flight schedule. “We will save Czech people from the high fares offered currently at Prague [Ruzyně] Airport by Czech Airlines or Aer Lingus,” Tomasz Kulakowski, Ryanair’s sales and marketing manager for Central Europe, told CBW. One-way tickets will start at around 500 koruna (€18, $24.6), not including fees and taxes, although cheaper special promotion tickets may be available on initial days.

Domestic carrier Czech Airlines (ČSA) normally charges a minimum of 1,495 koruna (about €54, $74) for a one-way ticket, fees and taxes not included. Ireland’s Aer Lingus, which also connects the two cities, cannot beat Ryanair with its lowest fare either. However, Ryanair charges passengers for luggage and clients often end up paying for additional costs. ČSA has lost several markets owing to the fierce price policy war fought by low-cost airlines and is aware of the new competitor. “ČSA operates on another 44 markets where we often face similar situations. In such cases, we are capable of reacting flexibly [by introducing] changes in marketing or sales policies,” said Daniela Hupáková, ČSA’s spokeswoman.

Ryanair said 60 to 65% of passengers on the route will be high-spending Irish tourists who will boost Prague’s economy. The company expects to carry at least 100,000 passengers on the new service within the first 12 months of operations. That number of passengers normally creates approximately 100 new jobs in a local economy, as the demand for services such as buses, taxis, hotels and restaurants as well as handling services at airports soars, Kulakowski said.

Irish tourists are the biggest spenders in the Czech Republic, spending an average 2,800 koruna (€101, $138) daily, according to a survey conducted by the Czech Ministry for Regional Development. And while the number of tourists from the UK has been dropping, more Irish are coming to the Czech Republic. Last year, more than 40,000 Irish people stayed in the country’s accommodation facilities. In the H1 of 2007, a total of 21,531 stayed here, 9.2% more than in the H1 of last year. Ireland advanced from 28th place to 24th in the ranking of countries where tourists originate from, said Karin Šeligová, spokeswoman of state tourism agency CzechTourism.

A Boeing 737-800 aircraft with a capacity of 189 passengers will be used for the Ryanair flights between Dublin and Prague. The service will be available every day in addition to Aer Lingus’ seven flights and ČSA’s 13 flights a week. ČSA’s Hupáková said that the link has an “above-average” seat load factor of around 75%.

Ryanair began as a small airline in 1985, flying a short hop from Waterford, Ireland, to London. It first arrived in the Czech Republic when in early 2005 it launched direct flights from London Stansted Airport to Brno, South Moravia. Kulakowski said that Ryanair managed to reach a low-cost agreement with Brno Tuřany Airport before it could do so with Prague Ruzyně Airport. The company has carried more than 270,000 passengers through Brno to date with “the load factor very high,” he said. Ryanair doesn’t disclose the load factor for separate routes, but Kulakowski said that all its Central and Eastern Europe  routes are profitable. Ryanair added that it would start flying between Brno and Girona-Costa Brava Airport, near Barcelona, Spain, as of October. The airline is also considering new routes from Prague, but will only announce what they are if and when decisions to operate them are made.

Ryanair has 22 bases and operates 542 connections to 26 countries. Its biggest operational base is London Standsted. This year, the carrier expects to transport about 50 million passengers on its regular flights. In CEE, Ryanair flies to 18 airports in Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia. While in the H1 of this year, low-cost carriers accounted for 20% of all passengers passing through Prague Ruzyně Airport, currently the rate is running at nearly a quarter, according to Letiště Praha, the operator of the airport. The airport is currently served by more than 50 airlines.

Ryanair’s major competitor easyJet already operates from Prague. Another recent new route announcement came from SkyEurope Airlines, which is scheduled to open a Prague to London Luton Airport connection at the end of October. London and London area airports are already served from the Czech capital by British Airways, ČSA, easyJet and UK-based low-cost carrier Thomsonfly. ČSA, which lists London among its most in-demand destinations, has already lost out to low-cost competition in the UK on destinations including Birmingham. (cbw.cz)