Ryanair - The Low Fares Airline: Whither Now?

Since its publication in 1999 Ryanair: The Low Fares Airline has won a European Case Award and has also been a best-selling case at The Case Centre for six consecutive years. A follow up case, published in 2005, was a best-seller in 2005 and 2006. We explore why the time was right for their author, Dr Eleanor O'Higgins, to write a new case on Ryanair.

Eleanor O'Higgins

Why another Ryanair case?

The airline industry is ever changing and is very sensitive to all kinds of events, both natural and man-made. Some are expected, such as air traffic controller strikes in Spain, but many are 'unknown-unknowns', like the 2010 volcanic ash cloud that disrupted air traffic all over Europe. In parallel, Ryanair does not stand still, so it is timely to record and analyse the contemporary dynamics of the airline in the context of its competitive space. As the budget airlines market leader in Europe it is in a unique position and its unceasing initiatives in staying ahead, as well as the way it deals with opportunities and threats as they arise, are of interest.

Teaching objectives

The new case is quite a comprehensive one so there are a myriad of interrelated objectives, as expressed in the teaching note. One is to understand the features of industry environments at various levels, from the broadest of overall industry structure to the narrowest of individual competitors. Then, what kind of capabilities and internal resources are necessary to succeed in this environment?

The case is intended to elucidate how a business strategy that is grounded in the best deployment of assets/resources/competencies, whilst adding perceived value to customers, delivers sustainable strategic advantage. It also shows how achieving competitive advantage is not easy, with many obstacles along the way and no room for complacency, something Ryanair exemplifies with its constant initiatives. In Ryanair's attempted takeover of Aer Lingus there are also elements of corporate level strategy. Another point of pedagogical interest in the case is leadership, in the personality of Michael O'Leary, alongside other internal cultural issues, such as human resources policies and practices.

The case is generally designed to be used toward the end of a strategic management course, but can be used at many different levels in many different contexts. It has been used in executive education, professional education, such as MBA programmes, and in general business/management education with both postgraduates and undergraduates. It can enable students to try out various techniques, such as a comprehensive SWOT analysis, including strategic group maps, and scenario analysis.

Published sources versus field research

Once a company participates in a case it can exercise editorial rights over the case content, so the advantage of writing a case from public sources is that it allows independence and objectivity, rather than repeating the company line. With a case like Ryanair, it is still possible to bring the case alive as the company is so active in courting publicity, some might say, notoriety. There are always numerous anecdotes around, such as Ryanair's battles with Nicolas Sarkozy/Carla Bruni and the Queen of Spain. Michael O'Leary also provides a multitude of 'quotable quotes' in his many opinionated public pronouncements, and I have been able to knit many of these into the case to give it a lot of colour.

Any advice?

I believe the first prerequisite for writing a case is to be genuinely interested in the company and the industry. This makes it easier to collect information, since it is something an author will be doing as a matter of course, out of interest and curiosity. Also, for a case to be useful and likely to be adopted by instructors it should have a good teaching note. When I write my cases, I am always conscious about how everything in it feeds in to the lessons to be learned from the case, and how it will relate to the teaching note. This is especially so with respect to providing relevant factual material that provides a basis for evidence of a strategy and how it is working. I believe that this approach optimises the benefits of the case to instructors who adopt the case and to students.

Case details

Click on the case title to view further details and, where available, an educator preview copy.

Ryanair - The Low Fares Airline: Whither Now?
Eleanor O'Higgins
University College Dublin (UCD)
Ref 311-020-1
Teaching note
Ref 311-020-8

About the author

Eleanor O'Higgins is on the faculty of the School of Business at University College Dublin, Ireland and a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK. e eleanor.ohiggins@ucd.ie

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