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Ryanair annual passenger count grows at slowest pace since 2014

[LONDON] Ryanair Holdings Plc's passenger tally grew at the slowest annual pace since 2014 after Europe's biggest discount carrier canceled thousands of flights to cope with a staffing crunch among pilots.

The 2017 customer count rose by 10 per cent to 129 million, Ryanair said in a statement Wednesday, while the December figure advanced only 3 per cent, the worst performance since a 4 per cent decline reported in March, 2014.

Ryanair scrapped 2,100 flights through the end of October as it battled with a staff-rostering foul up, before cancelling another 18,000 services stretching into the start of next summer. Since then, chief executive officer Michael O'Leary has been forced to accept unionisation for pilots after the screw-up gave them increased bargaining power that resulted in the carrier's first-ever strike.

The annual passenger increase was 2 million less than initial forecasts and slipped from a 15 per cent gain in 2015, putting the brakes on Ryanair's surge ahead of rivals. The Dublin-based carrier has already cut next year's forecast tally by 4 million to 138 million customers.

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Budapest-based Wizz Air Holdings Plc, Eastern Europe's biggest discounter, reported a 24 per cent jump in its 12-month count to 28.3 million customers, up from a 19 per cent jump in 2016. The Irish company still added more customers at 12 million, versus 5.5 million at Wizz.

Shares of Ryanair traded 0.3 per cent lower at 15 euros as of 8:01am in Dublin, after gaining just 3.8 per cent last year.

Ryanair's net income for the quarter ended Sept 30 suffered a rare decline as it shelled out 25 million euros (S$40.05 million) in refunds to more than 700,000 passengers hit by the cancellations, according to figures published Oct 31. The company has stood by its forecast for net income of 1.4 billion euros to 1.45 billion euros in the year ending March 31.

Ryanair was forced to scrap flights amid a botched rescheduling of pilot leave prompted by changes in Irish labour laws and the poaching of staff by rivals.

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