ROUTEFLASH!!: Ryanair to open its first African bases in Marrakech and Fez

Will Ryanair’s new Moroccan bases be a runner, or will they have the recent indifferent form of O’Leary’s horse, Don Cossack?

Will Ryanair’s new Moroccan bases be a runner, or will they have the recent indifferent form of O’Leary’s horse, Don Cossack?’s discovery of the new bases represents quite a turnaround since June when Ryanair axed 34 frequencies and announced: “ONDA (the airports authority) has refused to guarantee Ryanair the continuation of the cost levels of its original agreement, consequently it’s unrealistic for them to expect us to continue to grow our business in that context.”

Exclusive: has discovered that Ryanair will open two new bases in Morocco, less than six months after a spectacular public row with the state airports company, ONDA, in which it declared: “Ryanair cannot accept cost increases as it seeks to deliver more growth to Morocco; ONDA has now lost sight of the key to the success of our partnership.” Clearly relations have thawed considerably, to the extent that aircraft will now be based in the country, probably from April this year.

As base number 56 and 57 you would think that this would not be a big deal for the low-cost world, however the Irish carrier’s decision is significant as it represents the first time any European low-cost carrier has made the decision to base aircraft outside of its home continent. Our data elves can only think of Tiger Airways (based in Singapore, but with operations in Sydney and Melbourne) and Air Arabia (based in Sharjah but with bases in Alexandria and Casablanca) as being the only low-cost carriers with aircraft based in a different continent. (Before anyone writes in, we maintain that Ryanair’s three Canary Islands bases in Tenerife, Lanzarote, and Gran Canaria are technically in Europe).

Competing airlines on the rack, at RAK

Currently Ryanair is the third largest carrier at Marrakech, trailing slightly behind easyJet and national carrier Royal Air Maroc in terms of both weekly frequencies and seats. Even if Ryanair decides to base just one new aircraft at the airport, it would seem likely that it will become the dominant airline, although this will depend on the number of new routes that it plans to launch versus just simply reinstating the schedule on existing routes.

Top 12 Airlines at Marrakech Airport Weekly one-way seat capacity - Jan 13

Source: Innovata Jan 13

Looking at the biggest routes in Marrakech market today, Ryanair either already operates, or has plans to operate, to the largest markets: Paris (it already serves Beauvais four times weekly); London (two flights per week to London Luton restart on 02 February, and two flights per week to London Stansted from 03 February); Madrid (daily flights); Marseille (thrice weekly); and Milan (it serves Bergamo twice weekly).

Will Ryanair go domestic?

The obvious gaps in the existing network would be some services to Scandinavia, and more capacity into France to serve the obvious social links between the two counties. However, the biggest single market from Marrakech is domestic — with 28 weekly frequencies and over 3,200 weekly seats — is to Casablanca. So, with aircraft based at the airport, it will be interesting to see if Ryanair uses this opportunity launch domestic services within Morocco.

Comedian Tommy Cooper.

Fez, famous for its felt hat. Ryanair options for the new Fez base include re-starting the London Stansted route again (axed during the spat over airport charges), laying on more French services, or filling entirely open market gaps such as the unserved Madrid route, or providing Scandinavian flights.

The situation at Fez Saïss Airport is very different. It is seven times smaller than Marrakech, and Ryanair is already the #1 airline in terms of weekly seats and flights – it only has five airlines serving the city probably most famous for the tarboosh felt hat. Route opportunities that Ryanair may well look to exploit could include re-starting London Stansted flights again (which were canned during the spat over charges last October with ONDA), Madrid (currently not served at the airport), more frequencies to France (Paris, Marseille and Montpellier are currently operated across all serving airlines) as well as Scandinavia.

Top 5 Airlines - Fez Airport Weekly one-way seat capacity - Jan 13

Source: Innovata Jan 13

As we close for press, there are also rumours that Michael O’Leary will be using the company jet this week to announce bases 58 and 59 at Lisbon and Santander. Typically Ryanair would normally start a base only after it has trialled the destination with some inbound flights from other bases, but currently it has no operations at Lisbon and if this plan comes to fruition it will become its third Portuguese base after Porto and Faro. The low-cost carrier already has a 17 route network from Santander operating domestically in Spain, as well as the three routes to the UK, two in Italy and one each in Germany and Belgium. Santander would become Ryanair’s eighth base in mainland Spain.


  1. Postanote says:

    After accusing Moroccan airports of overcharging it looks as if O’Leary has managed to reverse the rackett?
    He did the same in Spain….
    A pity these routes could have been operated by airlines really creating jobs!

  2. Adam Simmons says:

    I live in Lanzarote and there is a significant Moroccan population on the Canary Islands. At present, Morocco (CMN) is just served once a week by Binter at quite an extortionate rate. Given the population of the Canaries (about 3 million), I would hope that there would be some demand between the Canaries and its nearest neighbour to allow a new link or two. At present, it’s cheaper to fly via Madrid!

  3. Thomas says:

    Depending on your definition of a Low Cost Carrier, Ryanair is not the first to have done this, Jetairfly is.
    Jetairfly is originally based in Belgium, but has 3 737’s based in Morocco.

  4. Hans Vanhaelemeesch says:

    Quote : “it represents the first time any European low-cost carrier has made the decision to base aircraft outside of its home continent.”

    Correction : Jetairfly (Belgium, Europe) has two aircraft based in Marrakech and 1 in Casablanca, both on the African continent.
    So it is no ‘first’ after all.

  5. Arthur Dent says:

    I believe Jetairfly’s 3 Moroccan based aircraft were acquired when the airline basically took over the local carrier Jet4you, which was also part of the TUI Travel group of airlines.

  6. Marius Teodorescu says:

    Do you have more information on the potential Lisbon base? Also, I think that Morocco is a very good market for LCC and tourism there will benefit a lot if Ryanair opens the two bases.

    Thank you for the information about Turkish Airlines opening the route Constanta – Istanbul, it was just confirmed today.

    Do you have any information about Ryanair opening routes anywhere in Romania, especially Bucharest?

    Thank you,

  7. James Pearson says:

    Given Wizz’s penetration in Bucharest and that they pretty much serve the same cities and airports Ryanair would, I can’t see Ryanair adding many, if any, routes there for sometime. Incidentally, Ryanair presently has two routes to Romania: from Milan/Bergamo and Pisa to Constanta.

    Regarding Morocco, don’t forget that Ryanair already serves 6 cities and has 46 routes. I am reminded of an interesting study, conducted by Intervistas for IATA, that Anna readers may find useful if they haven’t already read it: This is another, arguably more exciting, study from a few years back but I can’t presently find it. I believe it was done by Cranfield University.

  8. Marius Teodorescu says:

    Thanks for the replies, @Mark and @James. I have just read on a Romanian website that Ryanair will make an announcement tomorrow regarding two new routes from Tîrgu Mureș Transilvania Airport (TGM). The website suggests Dublin and Pisa, but I can’t find any other information online to confirm this. (in Romanian language)

    Wizzair also has 11 routes from TGM.

    Regarding Bucharest, it seems that Blueair (JOR), another LCC operating from OTP, is in some financial difficulties, maybe this could be an opportunity for Ryanair to start OTP operations or for WZZ to expand.

  9. James Pearson says:

    Ryanair’s bases in Marrakesh and Fez are now confirmed.

    It will base 2 738s in Marrakech and add 7 new routes: Strasbourg/Baden-Baden, Bergerac, Cuneo/Turin, Dole (France, Munich/Memmingen, Paris/Vatry, and Tours.

    It will base 1 738 in Fez and add 4 new routes: Lille, Nantes, Nimes, and Lyon/St Etienne

    Adding to the 6 airports it already serves in Morocco, it will serve 2 more: Essaouira and Rabat, the former fromMarseille and Brussels/Charleroi, and the latter from Brussels/Charleroi, Paris (Beauvais), and Marseille.


  10. Gavin Ward says:

    Not a new MOL enterprise I hope!

    Can you confirm that “Don Cossack” didn’t end up in the Tesco burgers? 🙂

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