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Michael O’Leary, CEO at Irish airline Ryanair, has slammed Pierluigi Di Palma, President of ENAC, the Italian Civil Aviation Authority, urging him to step down and to get better versed with what constitutes an oligopoly.

This comes after in a report by Italian newspaper Il Messaggero, Mr Di Palma hit out at low-cost airlines, stating that they “practically no longer exist,” as offers that were present prior to COVID-19 in order to attract customers “will never be there again.” He also targeted Ryanair, saying that the Irish airline controls 51 per cent of the Italian market, producing “oligopoly-like situations.”

In response to this, Mr O’Leary penned an open letter to Mr Di Palma, dated 29th March 2024 and made public on Tuesday (today), in which he stated that he read the ENAC President’s comments “with astonishment.”

Mr O’Leary said that the claims that there are no more low-cost airlines and that there never be low fares again “add more falsehoods to the list of wrong and stupid claims” that Mr Di Palma has made about air travel in Italy.

This is not the first time that the pair have locked horns, with there being a number of exchanges between them about rising flight prices in Italy, especially between Sicily and Sardinia and the mainland. In a report from last September, the Ryanair boss had urged him to take responsibility about a “false report” by ENAC about the prices of airline tickets.

In the latest open letter, Mr O’Leary said that in recent months, Mr Di Palma has made a number of false claims, particularly that there is an oligopoly in Italian aviation, that there were €1,000 flight tickets to Sicily, algorithms being in place, and that airlines were using passengers’ mobile phones to vary air fares.

“Now, you are making more false claims about there being ‘no low fares’ in Italy when Ryanair is selling over 12 million seats in summer 2024 at one-way fares of €29.99 or less. Low fares have never been more widely available in Italy,” he continued.

“It would require very little education on your part to understand that there is no ‘oligopoly’ in Italy,” Mr O’Leary stressed.

Oligopolies are those markets that are dominated by a small number of businesses, thus not allowing others to have a share in the market.

Mr O’Leary explained that an oligopoly involves a few producers working together to “restrict output or fix prices, so they can achieve above normal market returns.” He said that this is not present in Italy.

Additionally, he also rejected the claim that Ryanair controls 51 per cent of the Italian aviation market, stating that the Irish airline’s market share in Italy is “under 40 per cent.” Mr O’Leary also dubbed Mr Di Palma’s claim that there will never low fares in Italy again as “silly,” stating that Ryanair will be offering over 29 million seats to and from and within Italy as part of its summer schedule. 40 per cent of these seats are on sale at €29.99 one way or less and 15 million seats are priced at €39.99 or less.

“As President of ENAC, your statements have repeatedly demonstrated your ignorance of the airline market in Italy. You continue to mislead the Italian Government and the public about intense airline competition and the availability of low fares in Italy, and so we believe you should resign, and allow somebody competent to run ENAC,” he affirmed.

Mr O’Leary remarked that should he be unwilling to resign, then he should “stop making false or stupid claims” about Ryanair’s fares, market share, and about an oligopoly in Italy.

To rub further salt into the wounds, Ryanair also attached the cover of the book “Economics for Dummies,” calling for Mr Di Palma to read it so that he can “quickly learn what an oligopoly is, and how an oligopoly works.”

“You have offered no useful service as President of ENAC, so please do something useful for Italian aviation, step down and let somebody competent chair ENAC,” Mr O’Leary concluded.

Mr Di Palma did not resign from his position, but in comments to Corriere della Sera, he stated that Mr O’Leary’s words were “provocations” and that the Ryanair CEO should “respect the Italian institutions and those who represent them.”

“Our task is to always stand by the citizen-passenger, protecting them in every aspect, including the cost of transport,” Mr Di Palma added.

The approach from Ryanair’s boss received mixed responses on social media, with some praising him for his bold and brutal approach, while others could not believe that he had used such wording in business communication.

Featured Image:

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary / Ryanair (left) and ENAC President Pierluigi di Palma / 5G Italy (right)

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