DUBLIN, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Ryanair (RYA.I) has experienced a "sea change" in its confidence in recent weeks, a senior executive said on Thursday, on perceptions that the threat from the Omicron COVID-19 variant is easing and public attitudes to travel are improving.
Fares are also likely to rise across the European short-haul sector this summer due to lower available capacity, said Eddie Wilson, chief executive at Ryanair DAC, the largest airline in the Ryanair Group.
Wilson did not give specific guidance about Ryanair's prospects, citing reporting restrictions ahead of the company's third-quarter financial results on Jan. 31, but he did say the airline's focus was "all about next summer".
"There is a sea change, based on what we believe will be customer confidence and the timing of the peaking of Omicron," Wilson told Reuters in an interview when asked if the airline was a lot more confident than a few weeks ago.
"I think people's mindset has moved as well in terms of 'I'm traveling', 'I'm going'," Wilson said. "They can see the summer. They are not in the darkest days of where we were the previous year."
Ryanair expects a 10-15% fall in available short-haul seats across Europe next summer to push up average fares in the sector compared to pre-pandemic levels, he said.
"The macro view of this is that there are less seats in Europe, so broadly fares will be higher. They have to be," he said.
Wilson said however that Ryanair had experienced fewer summer bookings than normal in the last few months due to concerns ahead of the peak of Omicron.
He said Ryanair planned to increase the number of aircraft based in Italy this summer to 92 from 67 before the pandemic, reaching a market share of around 40%.
He said however that he expected fewer aircraft to be based in Spain and significantly fewer in Germany due to airport costs.
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