Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, is facing challenges in France and Italy, where it is attempting to reduce pollution from aviation. France has proposed minimum ticket prices to serve cities like Marseille and Bordeaux, while Italy is the clear market leader. Ryanair’s expansion plans remain on course after a public dispute with the government over a plan to limit prices on flights to Sicily and Sardinia.
The French price proposal, which has some support from the Netherlands and Belgium, has been met with short shrift from Ryanair executive Eddie Wilson, who argues it is an attempt to support national carriers at the expense of less affluent travellers. The standoff between Ryanair and the Italian government demonstrates the importance of low-cost carriers in Europe and the difficulty in reining them in. With a strong position in Western Europe, Ryanair is now looking east to countries like Poland for further growth.
Budget airlines have significantly impacted Italy’s air travel industry, with Ryanair now generating over a fifth of its revenues on Italian routes, claiming a market share of over 40%. This growth is partly due to Alitalia’s weakness, as it has gained market share in domestic and international short- and medium-haul flights. However, Ryanair’s ambitions of doubling passenger numbers on Italian routes to 100 million over the next decade were questioned after falling out with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government over the summer.
The government’s decree to cap domestic flights to Sicily and Sardinia in high season was criticized for causing out-of-control flight prices during holiday periods. However, after Ryanair challenged the cap at the European Commission and switched more Italian flights to international routes, Rome diluted the measure by handing control for policing prices to its antitrust body. Europe’s main airline lobby group expressed relief and called for more European coordination to support the sector.
Airlines for Europe’s head of Europe, Ourania Georgoutsakou, believes that Europe can work together to revive the market that took 30 years to create. ITA, a state carrier, has been replaced by a slimmed down state carrier, ITA, which is set to receive foreign backing from Lufthansa. The German airline has agreed to take a 41% stake in ITA, awaiting European authorities’ clearance. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr believes a stronger ITA will reinvigorate competition in the Italian market.
Ryanair’s impact is evident in Bergamo, Italy, which has become the third busiest airport in the country after Malpensa and Rome Fiumicino. Bergamo and nearby Brescia have been designated as Italian cities of culture this year. With the Vatican declaring 2025 a Jubilee Year and Italy hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics, Wilson sees further growth in Italy’s tourism industry.