Today, Irish budget carrier Ryanair is one of the world's largest low-cost airlines. As is the case with many LCCs worldwide, it operates a uniform fleet of hundreds of narrowbody twinjets to increase its operational flexibility. However, did you know that, in its earlier years, Ryanair's fleet was far more diverse? It even flew a handful of turboprop aircraft, as we shall now explore.

Embraer EMB 110 'Bandeirante'

The airline commenced its operations on a significantly smaller scale in comparison to how we know and love (or loathe!) the carrier as it is today. Founded in 1984 as Danren Enterprises, it soon changed its name to Ryanair. This reflected the presence of Tony Ryan among its founders, who had also founded Guinness Peat Aviation. Within a year, it had flown its first commercial service.

Ryanair's first aircraft was a 15-seat Embraer EMB 110 'Bandeirante.' The name is a Brazilian-Portuguese term meaning 'pioneer' or 'trailblazer,' and refers to explorers from Brazil's colonial era. The twin-engine turboprop aircraft made its maiden revenue-earning flight for Ryanair on July 8th, 1985. The airline's inaugural service connected Waterford, in south-east Ireland, with London Gatwick.

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The aircraft, registered as EI-BPI, was the only example of the Embraer EMB 110 'Bandeirante' that Ryanair has ended up operating during its busy history. According to, it flew for the carrier between 1985 and 1989. EI-BPI was scrapped in 2005, having most recently been owned by Steenberg Aviation.

Hawker Siddeley HS 748

The next turboprop aircraft that Ryanair added to its fleet was the Hawker Siddeley HS 748. This model offered the airline significantly improved capacity compared to the smaller EMB 110. Ryanair began flying the aircraft in 1986, which coincided with the launch of its second route, from Dublin Airport to London Luton Airport.

Flying between Dublin (DUB) and London (LTN) saw Ryanair face off against the corridor's existing Aer Lingus/British Airways duopoly for the first time in its embryonic years. Being such a competitive route, investing in the extra capacity of the larger HS 748 over the existing EMB 110 proved to be an astute decision.

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Ryanair ultimately flew two examples of this aircraft type between 1986 and 1990. Interestingly, Planelogger reports that one of them went on to fly for Necon Air in Nepal. It arrived there in 1992, though the Aviation Safety Network reports that it was written off following a runway excursion in 1997. It struck another HS 748 in the process, although, thankfully, there were no fatalities.

ATR 42

By the late 1980s, Ryanair had begun operating its first jet aircraft in the form of the rear-engined BAC 1-11 twinjet. Nonetheless, it would still go on to operate one further turboprop model before its fleet became solely jet-powered. This was the twin-engine French-Italian ATR 42-300, of which reports that Ryanair operated four examples between September 1988 and November 1992.

When this particular aircraft type entered Ryanair's growing fleet, the ATR 42 was a far more modern design than the HS 748. As such, it represented a logical next step in modernizing Ryanair's turboprop aircraft portfolio. Of the four examples that it operated, three bore names, such as Spirit of Kerry.

The only one not to do so was a short-term lease from Inter Canadien that the airline only operated for a month in 1989. It also retained its Canadian registration for this period, flying as C-FIQB. Planelogger reports that Ryanair also took another turboprop aircraft on a short-term lease, namely a Convair 340. It flew this model between June and October 1988 on lease from Partnair.

Today's fleet is rather different

Interestingly enough, Ryanair also provided sponsorship for a Short S.25 'Sandringham' flying boat back in 1989. However, this aircraft never flew any revenue-earning services for the carrier. Looking at Ryanair's fleet today, it isn't easy to imagine that it once featured such an exciting range of tiny turboprop aircraft. However, these planes show that starting small can lead to extraordinary things.

A Ryanair Boeing 737-800 just after takeoff.
Photo: Matyas_Luke/Shutterstock

According to, the Ryanair Group's current fleet comprises 544 aircraft. These are divided between 28 Airbus A320-200s, 124 Boeing 737 MAX 8-200s, and 392 Boeing 737-800s. It is worth noting that all of the A320s fly for its subsidiary Lauda Europe, with several of the carrier's 737s (across both variants) operating for subdivisions such as Buzz, Malta Air, and Ryanair UK.

Did you know that Ryanair used to operate turboprop aircraft? Perhaps you even flew on one yourself back in the day? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Sources: Aviation Safety Network,,,

  • Ryanair Boeing 737
    Photo: Ryanair
    IATA/ICAO Code:
    Airline Type:
    Low-Cost Carrier
    Dublin Airport, London Stansted Airport, Milan Bergamo Airport
    Year Founded:
    Airline Group:
    Ryanair Group
    Eddie Wilson