Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary leads race to be Europe’s first €100m aviation chief

The race to become Europe’s first €100million (£87million) aviation chief is heating up.

And Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has stolen an early lead over Wizz Air’s Jozsef Varadi.

Budget airlines have been at the forefront of the post-pandemic travel boom.

The likes of Ryanair, Wizz Air and Easyjet have cashed in on pent-up demand for cheap getaways after Covid lockdowns.

In an era of high interest rates and soaring fuel costs, airlines have been forced to pass rising costs onto their customers – hiking fares and add-ons.

At the helm: Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary is edging closer to a €100m pay out as the budget airline rakes in bumper profits

And this has allowed some of the biggest carriers to rake in bumper profits as a result.

Last week Ryanair said it expects annual profits of between £1.6billion and £1.8billion after flying a record 105m passengers in the six months to the end of September.

It comes as the average price of a seat on its no-frills planes jumped 24 per cent on a year earlier to £50, whilst revenue from add-ons – including for seat allocation and extra baggage – ballooned 14 per cent to £2.1billion in the half year.

All this has meant Ryanair shares have enjoyed a steady climb in recent months, with its stock rallying nearly 40 per cent year to date. They are now trading at €16.75.

This is good news for long-time boss O’Leary, 62, who is edging closer to a €100million pay out, which hinges on boosting the firm’s shares. 

Under this incentive plan, O’Leary has 10m share options that he can cash in at €11.12 each if Ryanair’s share price hits €21 before summer 2028 or if the business posts annual profits of £1.9billion.

Likewise, his arch rival Varadi, 58, also has a €100million bonus at stake. Under his agreement, Varadi will get a one-off award if Wizz Air’s share price hits £120 by 2028 – something that feels increasingly out of reach with its London-listed shares hovering at a five-year-low and trading at £16.75.

While many City analysts have recently backed the Dublin-based firm’s ability to meet the €21 mark, some have been less optimistic.

Flying high: Wizz Air’s Jozsef Varadi will get a one-off award if Wizz Air’s share price hits £120 by 2028

Flying high: Wizz Air’s Jozsef Varadi will get a one-off award if Wizz Air’s share price hits £120 by 2028

And the story is even bleaker for rival Wizz Air and Varadi, which slashed its profit forecast last week in the face of this global uncertainty.

Profits are expected to be between £300million and £350million, down from guidance in June of £350million to £400million.

Nevertheless Varadi is adamant he is worth the money.

‘This is a cheap deal,’ he said in August in response to critics. ‘You want me to be successful without getting paid? 

That’s kind of an interesting proposition.’ But O’Leary has taken an increasingly placid approach to PR, where he has moved away from insulting his customers and fellow bosses to a more professional demeanour. 

More than 20 years ago O’Leary famously told an interviewer: ‘I don’t give a ***** if no one likes me. I am not a cloud bunny, I am not an aerosexual.

‘I don’t like aeroplanes. I never wanted to be a pilot like those other platoons of goons who populate the airline industry.’

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