Let’s admit it, Ryanair hasn’t built its reputation on customer service or the comfort and amenities of its aircraft cabins. Ryanair is unapologetically a ‘no frills’ airline, and the more optional services you opt for the higher your ticket price. This is a highly successful business model, and Ryanair consistently ranks the number one airline in Europe in terms of the number of passengers carried (more than 70 million in 2021).
So, with Ryanair’s ‘low cost’ business model in mind, and the sheer scale of Ryanair’s operation with more than 300 aircraft to maintain, some people may ask whether or not the airline is safe to fly with.
The short answer is yes, Ryanair is safe – some even argue it is one of the safest airlines you can fly with.
Below I provide more explanation of why I have come to this conclusion.
Ryanair Has a Relatively Modern Fleet
Ryanair operates an all-Boeing 737 fleet.
Airfleets.net shows three main operating entities for Ryanair as follows:
- Ryanair (Ireland) – 305 No. B737 Next Generation/Max aircraft.
- Buzz/Ryanair Sun (Poland) – 57 No. B737 Next Generation/Max aircraft.
- Ryanair UK (United Kingdom) – 8 No. B737 Next Generation/Max aircraft.
The average fleet age of these operating entities and their rankings out of 277 airlines that operate B737 Next Generation and MAX aircraft are shown in the table below:
|Ryanair Entity||Average Fleet Age/ Years||Ranking (out of 277)|
|Buzz/Ryanair Sun (Poland)||4.1||9|
|Ryanair UK (United Kingdom)||12.1||139|
The operating life of a modern jet aircraft depends on the number of ‘cycles’ it operates. Aircraft operating a lot of short-haul cycles can become life expired more quickly than aircraft that operate fewer longer-haul cycles. But as a ‘rule of thumb’ airlines can typically expect aircraft to last for up to 30 years if they are properly and regularly maintained.
So, with an average aircraft age of 12 years, Ryanair’s aircraft still have a lot of life left in them. Just for comparison, the average age of American Airlines’ fleet is almost 11 years old with some of its aircraft being older than 20 years.
Ryanair has placed big orders for more B737MAX aircraft that will reduce its average fleet age as they get delivered.
Ryanair Safety Rating
As a starting point, it’s worth mentioning that Ryanair has scored top marks with AirlineRatings.com for safety (7*). This means that:
- Ryanair is not blacklisted in the European Union and the United States
- Ireland performed very well in the latest ICAO Country Audit which looks at a country’s airline regulations from a safety perspective
- Ryanair has not suffered any fatal accident in its 37-year flying history
That said, Ryanair does not have the optional IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification. However, this certification is, as mentioned, optional and the audit itself comes at a significant cost. As such, many low-cost carriers in Europe opt not to get it. That does not mean that the airlines would not pass it if they applied for it.
So, Ryanair has a very good safety record. Ryanair has never suffered a fatal air crash. The Aviation Safety Network shows thirteen Ryanair events occurring between 2007 and 2019.
Twelve of these events were minor accidents, such as collisions between aircraft and ground vehicles while the aircraft were taxiing on the ground. All of these aircraft in these eleven accidents were able to be repaired.
The most significant Ryanair safety incident was in 2008 and involved a flight from Frankfurt-Hahn Airport which suffered undercarriage damage in an emergency landing at Rome-Ciampino Airport after it experienced a series of bird strikes damaging the aircraft engines.
Some crew members and passengers suffered minor injuries as the undercarriage collapsed which damaged the rear part of the aircraft fuselage. The aircraft was damaged beyond repair and was scrapped.
It’s also worth reporting that around ten years ago, Ryanair was involved in a controversy over fuel levels.
In 2012, three Ryanair aircraft inbound to Madrid Barajas Airport were diverted to Valencia Airport due to an outbreak of severe thunderstorms near Madrid. All three aircraft declared Mayday emergencies when the calculated usable fuel on landing at Valencia Airport was less than the accepted final reserve level (30 minutes of flight) after having been held in the air for around an hour.
The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) investigated the incidents and broadly concluded that the aircraft departed for Madrid with fuel in excess of their flight plan requirements and with fuel in excess of the minimum diversion fuel depicted on the flight plans.
It also concluded that the initial aircraft holding requirement close to Madrid increased the diversion time to Valencia Airport and that the weather conditions in Madrid were more significant than anticipated by the flight crew when they reviewed the weather forecast.
The IAA made a number of recommendations, including that Ryanair should review its fuel policy and consider issuing guidance to its flight crew with respect to fuel when operating to busy airports. The Spanish Civil Aviation Accident and Investigation Commission (CIAIAC) concluded that Ryanair’s fuel-saving policy complies with the minimum legal requirements, but tends to minimize the amount of operational fuel and leaves none beyond legal minimums.
In an interview with a Dutch investigative journalism program – KRO Reporter – four anonymous Ryanair pilots claimed they were being pressured to carry as little fuel as possible on board to cut costs. Ryanair denied the allegations and sued KRO. The Dutch Court decided that KRO had provided sufficient evidence broadcast in two television programs to support the pilots’ claims and Ryanair was ordered to pay the legal costs of the case.
How Can Ryanair Be Both Safe and Cheap?
Ryanair is able to offer low fares by lowering its costs in areas where it is perfectly safe to do so and by increasing its ancillary revenues.
A good example of reducing costs is operating a single-type aircraft fleet which lowers maintenance and crew costs, and increases operational efficiency and flexibility. Ryanair’s strategy is also to minimize aircraft weight to reduce fuel burn by removing inflight magazines among other things and provide a basic level of service without free drinks and food.
Ryanair also utilizes its aircraft better than many full-service carriers. Ryanair also maximizes revenues by increasing seats in each aircraft right up to the certified exit limit.
It is able to increase its revenues by selling drinks and food onboard, charging for check-in and carry-on bags, charging for airport check-in, and so on.
If you are wondering what it’s like to fly with the airline, check this review.
Summary: Is Flying with Ryanair Safe?
Yes, it is, and while it has a minor incident every now and then, as most airlines do, Ryanair has never had a fatal accident in almost four decades of operations.
Whilst, it’s true that Ryanair is not IOSA certified, this is optional and this does not mean that Ryanair would fail this if it was audited.
Ryanair is Europe’s biggest airline that transports tens of millions of passengers each year safely. So, I think it’s fair to say that Ryanair is a safe airline to fly with.