Ryanair has slipped from the top spot as Europe's biggest airline by passenger numbers

 
Rebecca Smith
The airline said last year the mismanagement of pilot holiday meant the need to cancel a wave of flights
The airline said last year the mismanagement of pilot holiday meant the need to cancel a wave of flights (Source: Getty)

Low-cost airline Ryanair has slipped from the top spot as Europe's biggest airline by passenger numbers, with German rival Lufthansa flying ahead.

Lufthansa said today it flew around 130m passengers last year, compared to Ryanair's total of 129m announced last week.

The Irish airline had faced pilot rostering problems which led to the cancellation of thousands of flights. It has though, still reported rising passenger numbers, with traffic up three per cent last month, compared to December 2016.

Read more: Ryanair and Wizz Air passenger numbers took off last year

Analysts at Dublin-based Goodbody noted growth had "slowed sharply" into a period impacted by the raft of cancellations Ryanair faced due to rostering issues.

However, they added this had been expected, and leaves the growth required in the fourth quarter to hit their full-year target at 4.4 per cent. Analysts said this was an "easily achievable" target, with some of 2018's Easter trade falling into that period.

Another concern for the airline has been Brexit contingency planning, with the news last week that it has applied for a UK licence to protect its operations in the event of a hard Brexit. Hungarian airline Wizz Air said it was creating a UK subsidiary to guarantee its operation of flights in the UK, while EasyJet said last July it had applied for a new air operator certificate in Austria to allow it to continue flying in the EU after Brexit.

Today, Ryanair said in a statement on the numbers:

This is expected given that Lufthansa is growing by acquisition whereas Ryanair continues to grow organically. Next year, as we grow to 140m passengers, we expect to overtake Lufthansa again, unless they acquire some other airline to boost their figures.

Lufthansa meanwhile, has been looking to propel expansion plans, with a boost last month from the European Commission giving the go ahead to acquire Air Berlin assets. It made concessions in order to get the deal through, giving up a number of slots at Dusseldorf airport to address competition concerns.

Today it said, passenger numbers rose 19.9 per cent to 9.3m in December, compared to the same month the year before, helping round off the year setting a new passenger record.

Read more: Lufthansa gets green light from EU Commission for Air Berlin assets

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