WARSAW (Reuters) - Air travel in Poland is likely to expand rapidly in the coming years and the total number of passengers could triple to 100 million by 2022, Ryanair (RYA.I) Chief Executive Michael O'Leary said.
Ryanair was considering entering the Polish charter market, O'Leary said, expanding its low-cost operations. O'Leary also criticised plans to build a new airport in central Poland.
Low-cost Ryanair is currently a market leader in European Union member Poland with a roughly 30 percent share of the market. Its rivals include Polish state airline LOT and Eastern Europe-focused Wizz Air (WIZZ.L).
"I think the Polish market is probably going to be the fastest growing market in Europe if you take the next 5 to 10 years," O'Leary told a news conference announcing new connections from Modlin airport near Warsaw.
Poland's economy has grown by over 40 percent in the last decade and economists polled by Reuters expect it to expand by 3 percent this year.
"I would be surprised if in 5 years' time annual traffic numbers to and from Polish airports isn't 100 million passengers a year," O'Leary said, calling on authorities to speed up approval to extend Modlin.
These plans to expand Modlin -- Ryanair's main airport in Poland -- have been slowed down by the rival idea to build a large new airport in central Poland, roughly 100 km from Warsaw. That plan has the backing of LOT.
"Don't waste another day, week, month on a central airport, because central airport is a stupid plan," O'Leary said. "They will waste too much money on it and will build a very inefficient airport."
The Polish government has not taken a decision yet regarding a central airport.
Ryanair estimates it will transport about 11 million passengers on the Polish market this year, around 20 percent more than in 2016.
The airline announced on Wednesday five new routes from Modlin -- to Eilat, Seville, Venice and the German airports of Baden-Baden and Memmingen.
O'Leary said Ryanair could enter the Polish charter market as early as next year.
"We think tour operators are suffering very high fares. We could offer them much lower prices as Ryanair," O'Leary said.
He said the size of the charter market in Poland stood at roughly 3 million passengers a year.
"If we were to enter we would probably see that rising to 6-7 million at half of the price," he said.
Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Keith Weir