Ryanair is to open a new base at London Southend airport in April 2019, despite its oft-repeated warnings of “serious disruption” to flights after the UK leaves the European Union.
But the airline’s chief commercial officer David O’Brien warned the move should not be viewed as "some sort of vote of confidence in the future of UK aviation" - despite investing hundreds of millions of pounds in 13 new routes to eight EU countries.
Instead, he said it was "a vote of confidence in Southend Airport", rather than a "reversal of opinion on the merits of Brexit".
In February, the airline claimed that Brexit could cause “serious disruption” to flights between the UK and EU, pending negotiations about what the UK will do without the Open Skies agreement when leaving the EU.
Ryanair has also applied for a UK licence to protect its operations in the event of a “hard Brexit” to guarantee its UK domestic routes, if no deal is agreed with the bloc.
But today, the airline said it will invest $300m (£225m) into a new base which will house three new aircraft. The airline will fly 13 new routes to eight countries in airports including Barcelona Reus, Corfu, Dublin, Malaga and Venice.
London Southend said the investment that will see three aircraft based at the airport will bring in at least one million extra passengers in the first year, and over 5m in the first five years.
Warwick Brady, chief executive of Stobart Group, the owner of Southend airport, said: “Ryanair will be a valuable partner” and the new flight paths will help “play a key role in solving London’s capacity crisis.”
Ryanair has previously spoken of plans to “pivot” growth away from the UK and towards the rest of the EU due to the Brexit vote, with O’Brien saying previously that the airline will “do the prudent thing” and continue “a modest growth path in the UK”.