Ryanair is “ready to pounce” as soon as there is a restart in travel but Easter “will be a write-off”, chief executive Michael O’Leary has warned.

O’Leary, usually the most bullish of forecasters, predicted only “a modest recovery in traffic in April, May and June” as Ryanair reported a €306 million loss for the three months to December on Monday.

However, he said “we’re already seeing a significant uptick in bookings for travel in that period [April-to-June]” and he forecast a sharp recovery in the peak summer months.

O’Leary reported Ryanair will look to operate 20%-25% of its capacity for April-to-June, 50%-70% during July to September and 75%-90% in the final quarter of this year.

He said: “We believe there will be a strong recovery on short-haul holiday routes and city breaks [and] the following year we’ll go back to strong growth.” But he warned: “Easter will be a write-off and May will be sluggish.”

Ryanair will look to expand rapidly at the expense of other carriers as soon as there is a restart, O’Leary said, arguing: “We’ll emerge with a much-lower cost base and where there is significantly reduced capacity. We’ll look to take advantage.

“We’ll use that to take as much market share as we can cope with.”

O’Leary noted: “We’re somewhat in the lap of the gods. But the vaccine roll-out is happening and more vaccines will be licensed. The narrative is going to move from lockdown and restrictions to vaccination programmes and lifting restrictions.”

He pointed out: “Even without a vaccine last year, there was a significant return to flying [in the summer].

The Ryanair chief reported “a significant uptick in holiday bookings from the UK, Germany and Spain since Christmas”, although “off a very low base”, and he insisted: “It will snap back strongly once governments remove lock down.

“Last summer, we saw an immediate snap back when the UK removed restrictions to the Canary Islands.

“We’re keeping aircraft ready to fly, training and recruiting hundreds of cabin crew. We’re ready to pounce as soon as there is any restart.”

O’Leary suggested: “Airports are being told by incumbent airlines that capacity will return. [But] a lot of capacity won’t return.

“Most airlines will struggle to get their capacity back. We expect competition between states and airports to participate in the recovery [and] the gap between us and our competitors will get wider.”

He added: “We expect a reasonably robust recovery in fares in summer 2021.

“Fares will recover strongly as vaccination is rolled out and people become more confident they can go on holiday in July, August and September, [and] we expect to grow aggressively in winter 2021-22 even off the back of lower fares.”

Comment:It’s about time travel agents stood up to Ryanair