Ryanair hikes growth forecast to target 200 million passengers per year

Ryanair hiked its long-term growth forecast by 10 percent on Monday, saying it expected to carry 200 million passengers per year by 2024 by taking capacity from rivals struggling to make a profit as competition pushes down prices.

Ryanair, already Europe's largest carrier by passenger numbers selling 119 million tickets per year, earlier this month announced plans to carry an extra 2 million passengers in its current financial year as rivals cut back.

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The Irish airline also announced plans to return 550 million euros ($608.85 million) to shareholders by February in a share buyback.

Ryanair three weeks ago cut its profit forecast for the year to March by 5 percent due to sterling weakness and the impact of intense competition on fares to between 1.3 billion euros and 1.35 billion euros.

On Monday it said it was comfortable with that forecast, but said it was heavily dependent upon there being no unexpected adverse declines in airfares in the three months to March.