A Brief History of Ryanair’s Inaugural Flight


DALLAS – Spotted at almost every airport across Europe and known by many all over the world, Ryanair (FR), the region’s largest airline by fleet size, destination count, employee number, and passenger numbers, had a somewhat humble start back in the day with just one aircraft and multiple plans gone awry.

In light of a recent public battle over aircraft pricing, with FR’s CEO Michael O’Leary saying he was willing to pass up a chance to acquire the Boeing 737-10 but that he would meet with the planemaker for further negotiations, we take a look at the first flight of this well-known European airline.

Founded in 1984 as “Danren Enterprises” by Christopher Ryan, Liam Lonergan, and Tony Ryan, from whom the Dublin/Ireland-based ultra-low-cost carrier got its name, FR was set up with a share capital of just £1, and a staff of 25.

It welcomed its first aircraft, an Embraer EMB 110 Bandeirante turboprop with registration EI-BPI which could accommodate just 15 passengers. The selected cabin crew had to be no taller than 5 ft 2 in (158 cm) as the turboprop cabin was only 160 cm high.

Ryanair Embraer EMB 110 Bandeirante in 1988. Photo: By Torsten Maiwald – http://www.airliners.net/photo/Ryanair-Commuter/Embraer-EMB-110P1-Bandeirante/0197156/L/, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17064258

Inaugural Flight Service

Image: Ryanair

The first flight took off in July 1985 on its only route that year, from Waterford Airport (WAT), Ireland to London Gatwick (LGW). The daily direct flights from Waterford made it the fourth international airport in the country aiming to make it business and industry attractive.

On the 15-seat EMB 110, the outbound flight to LGW departed Waterford at 08:30 am while the return journey departed 12 h later, giving businessmen almost an entire day for their work avoiding a night’s stay.

The following year of 1986, the airline was given permission to operate flights between Dublin (DUB) and London Luton (LTN). Ryanair took to its fleet two Avro HS748 aircraft which had 46 seats to cater to its second route.

Ryanair might be offering the cheapest fares today but back in the day, the Dublin-London sector was a busy and competitive one. With airlines such as British Airways (BA) and Aer Lingus (EI) operating, FR had to outmatch its competitors to gain customers and so it did by offering free onboard food and introducing for a year a business class cabin, which ultimately failed.

The airline took an 85% stake in London European Airways, which played an important role in 1987 when it could fly further to Amsterdam (AMS) and Brussels (BRU) from London LTN.

The FR fleet welcomed six BAC 1-11 aircraft—the first jet aircraft for the airline, which had been leased from the Tarom (RO), and also acquired an ATR 42. The airline expanded its route network all the way to Munich (MUC).

Ryanair Boeing 737-200 in 2003. Photo: By Alexander Jonsson – http://www.airliners.net/photo/Ryanair/Boeing-737-2T5-Adv/0313534/L/, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17064055


The airline yet stockpiled losses during the early years and saw the Ryan family invest £20m in 1990 with a decision to restructure the business model into a Low-cost airline. America’s Southwest Airlines (WN) was used as a concept example which made the airline operate a single fleet of aircraft, reduce ticket fares and get rid of free food.

They immediately removed the ATR 42 and also changed their base from LTN to London Stansted (STN). The BAC 1-11 operated as FR’s sole aircraft until they were retired in 1994 when the airline replaced it with a fleet of eight Boeing 737-200 aircraft.

Photo: Michael Rodeback/Airways

Present Day

It is headquartered in Dublin, with its primary bases at DUB and STN airports it operates a fleet of 258 Boeing 737 aircraft with 9.3 million passengers transported in July 2021.

Besides its low fare offering, FR aircraft are known to have non-reclining seats, no seat-back pockets, printed safety cards stuck on the back of the seats, and life jackets stowed overhead rather than under the seat. The reductions help the airline cut costs and carry out quick turnarounds at airports.

As for the 2022 Boeing 737 MAX deal and almost 40 years after FR’s first flight on the EMB 110, O’Leary told Reuters, “We have to wait for Boeing to be in a kind of headspace for talking about MAX 10s. At the moment, they’re dealing with a backlog of deliveries, 777 issues, design delays, or certification delays on the MAX 10. They have a whole heap of problems.”

The CEO added, “There are many times in my life that I missed the market, there’s always that possibility. But you know, even if we have, we’re very content where we are; we have 210 aircraft deliveries to take over the next five years.”

Featured image: Fabrizio Spicuglia/Airways


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