Michael O’Leary Rules! Okay?

Recent moves at City of Derry Airport prove that Michael O’Leary rules, if not Ireland, Britain and a chunk of the rest of Europe, then significant aeronautical hectares of them.

Michael O’Leary is Mr. Ryanair, CEO of the airline company that carries huge numbers of passengers for leisure, business, family and other pursuits. It is a hugely profitable business, worth way beyond its simple function of flying people from one place to another at a price.

Simply by moving some flights to Belfast and hinting publicly and, no doubt privately, that Ryanair might vacate City of Derry Airport, Michael O’Leary has triggered action, which means the release of public funds, from governments in Belfast and London with an alacrity that outpaces the fleet wonders of Usain Bolt. Governments in Brussels (though Brexit-spancilled at present), and Dublin (always troika-bound) eagerly await developments.

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O’Leary has previous form in this area. Some years ago, he secured an extension of the runways at City of Derry Airport, again at huge public cost and at considerable pain for families who were removed from their homes and farms to facilitate the extensions. Now Ryanair is on the point of pulling out of the airport.

Or is it?

Might the promised new money be enough to convince Michael O’Leary that Ryanair can continue to profit from City of Derry Airport?

Attempts to get a Derry-Belfast motorway built, to speed up train times between the cities, to secure and expand a university in Derry, to provide appropriate responses to the needs of cancer patients in Derry have all failed to raise the necessary money from the government, despite sterling efforts by many hard-working and intelligent people. How are they failing where Michael O’Leary succeeds?

Ryanair is a dynamic and successful corporate business. It excites heated responses, both pro and con, from users, competitors, governments and regulators.

What is it that Michael O’Leary and Ryanair have, by way of leverage with governments, that others don’t? The answer seems simply to be: jets.

And jets, or rather, not having them, terrifies people and requires financial responses that do not bear the cost-benefit scrutiny that other business proposals bear.

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Michael O’Leary and Ryanair’s business model uses fear and vanity, convenience, high-volumes, and low-costs. As well as this, the linkage between jets, modernity and progress delivers a full-fronted assertion of the current model of capitalism, where public investment and cost-bearing via tax and rate payers are used to transfer money into corporate hands, to secure their continuing presence and their profits. In this case, City of Derry Airport makes annual losses of two millions pounds sterling. Ryanair makes year on year profits.

In this case, City of Derry Airport makes annual losses of two millions pounds sterling. Ryanair makes year on year profits.

BBC Radio Foyle, the station local to City of Derry Airport, has been assiduously covering recent developments. They have been airing all the arguments in favour of the airport’s existence, including the necessity for the subvention from rate-payers and governments, as well as the counter arguments which invariably seem weak and vaguely unpatriotic. One constant note is that the airport and the flight connections are vital as inducements to investors from overseas who will bring employment to the city and region. The station recently carried an interview with a US digital-business head, who said he’d been to Derry, loved the city and managed to play some golf there on his way to a conference in Belfast. He sounded dead-on. What he didn’t sound like was someone about to open a factory in Derry any time soon.

The current responses from governments in Belfast and London lead to the ironic possibility that Ryanair will re-bid for the Derry-London route, benefiting from the enhanced public money on offer. It would be a brazen and effective use of public money for corporate gain, underlining the truth that Michael O’Leary and Ryanair rule. Okay?

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For a sense of the Ryanair experience, here is a short extract from Michael Cronin’s essay on the new service industry capitalism The Meaning of Ryanair as it appeared in Dublin Review of Books.

Stupefaction comes early. Booking a ticket on the website is like dealing with a snickering ticket tout ever alert to the foibles of the gullible or the inattentive. The future passenger is forever on guard against a kind of digital cute-hoorism so that she does not end up with a Samsonite suitcase she never wanted, travel insurance she never asked for and a car she never intended hiring.

Concealed in the thicket of drop down menus are the pass keys out of the labyrinth of algorithmic disorientation and the pop-up messages are video game villains which must be swatted down if the future passenger is to arrive safely at the destination of payment, where more inexplicable charges await the unwary.

Being charged for the privilege of printing your own boarding pass is perhaps one of the most inexplicable. This version of paying others for work you do is at the heart of the present moment of market capitalism, where low cost increasingly means, to the producer at least, no cost.

Michael O’Leary Rules!

Still okay?

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