Ireland-based low-cost carrier (LCC) Ryanair reported a 55% jump in net profit for the first quarter of its 2018 financial year, with the post-tax figure rising to €397 million ($453 million), compared to €256 million a year ago.

It achieved the result on revenues of just over €1.9 billion, up 13% year-over-year (YOY).

Passenger numbers for the quarter also rose 12% YOY to 35 million. Load factor climbed 2% to 96%, compared to the same period last year.

Speaking in London, Ryanair CFO Neil Sorahan cautioned that the result had been flattered by the inclusion of Easter in this year’s 1Q, which was not the case last year.

The demand for flights saw the average fare on Ryanair rise 1% to €40.30. However, Sorahan said the company continued to drive down average fares, with an 8% drop expected in 2H this year, compared to the same period in 2016.

Costs ex-fuel are expected to see a 1% reduction this year, while fuel hedging should deliver €70 million in savings this year. Ryanair’s FY18 fuel is 90% hedged at $49 per barrel and the airline took advantage of recent dips in the cost of oil to increase its 1H FY19 fuel hedging to approximately 45% at $48 a barrel.

The quarter also saw Ryanair add 10 additional Boeing 737 MAX 200s to its order book at the Paris Air Show. Sorahan said Ryanair would receive 10 of the new model aircraft in spring 2019, rather than autumn of that year as previously planned.

He added the Dublin-based carrier continued to see strong growth opportunities in several European nations including Italy, Germany, Poland and Portugal as legacy carriers rationalized their networks and LCC competitors closed bases.

Its new Ryanair Sun charter and package tour business in Poland will initially operate five Boeing 737-800s, with that figure rising to 15 aircraft. This, Sorahan said, took advantage of the recognition that many Polish holidaymakers liked to travel together and vacation in hotels with other Poles.

The main cloud on the horizon, he said, continued to be the impending UK exit from the European Union (EU), or Brexit.

Airlines such as Ryanair started loading their schedules on to their reservation systems about a year in advance. The UK is expected to leave the EU in spring 2019, “So we’re now close to the point where we have to start taking decisions.”

Ryanair as a company has been vocal in expressing its fears of a “cliff-edge” scenario in which all air services between the UK and the 27 EU nations could cease for a period of weeks, or longer, if no agreement on the future of the current European Open Skies arrangement is reached.

Ryanair has said it would have no compunction about spreading its 80-plus UK-based aircraft to other bases across Europe if a halt to services seemed likely.

Told that UK transport minister Chris Grayling had recently predicted at a UK Aviation Club lunch that such a stoppage would not happen, Sorahan replied: “At the moment, I’m hearing an awful lot of ‘It’ll be alright on the night’ comments, but there’s no clarity on how it’s going to happen.”

Alan Dron