RYANAIR blew away the competition over Christmas, flying nearly five million passengers in December – 12 per cent more than last year.
And total passengers for 2009 reached the dizzy heights of 65m, jetting past the 58m recorded the previous year.
The budget airline’s biggest rival EasyJet notched up a 9.3 per cent year-on-year rise in passenger traffic to 3.4m in December.
Both airlines benefited from the strike threats that dominated Christmas for British Airways and the problems that plagued the Channel Tunnel.
BA passenger traffic fell by 4.4 per cent in December to just 2.4m. First class and business travel fell by only 0.7 per cent but economy passenger numbers plummeted 4.6 per cent.
A Ryanair spokesman said the firm had targeted 76m customers for the next financial year and aimed to reach 90m passengers each year before numbers start to plateau.
It maintained ambitious expansion plans despite the collapse of a deal with Boeing for 200 new jets.
It is understood to have reached an agreement of $25m to $30m a plane but pulled the plug after Boeing changed the terms of delivery.
Some analysts suggested that Ryanair had misread the market and pulled out of the deal because it realised it risked over-expanding.
The Irish-based carrier plans to take delivery of 112 new 737-800s over the next three years but will now stop deliveries after 2013.
The firm says this will slash annual capital expenditure from £1.2bn to as little as £90m.
It plans to return the extra cash to shareholders via a series of special dividends. A spokesman said these would not be annual and were “the best use of extra cash”.
The company played down suggestions it is preparing a third bid for the Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus, claiming it would be “futile” while the Irish government continues to hang on to its 25 per cent stake in the airline.