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Pie protest 'not terribly' bright says Ryanair CEO as he unveils new Malta route

An upbeat Ryanair chief executive said environmental protesters who hit him with cream pies earlier on Thursday were "not terribly bright" and claimed it only led to a "surge in bookings".

Michael O'Leary responded to the Brussels incident during a news conference in Malta, where he was announcing a new route to Memmingen in Germany this winter.

"I think generally it's great. It generated more free publicity," he said, hours after being hit with the pies in the face and the back outside the European Commission.

"There's been a surge in bookings on the Ryanair website all afternoon. If me taking a cream pie delivers us a lot more bookings over the next couple of days I will happily take one."

Two protesters pied Michael O'Leary in Brussels. Video: AFP

He joked that he would request future pie throwers to use fresh cream or chocolate cake. 

"I think the problem is that climate activists are not very bright and don't understand the subject terribly well. We're the greenest airline in Europe, spending billions of dollars on very efficient new aircraft."

He said that it was "fun and sexy" to attack aviation but that the attacks were "entirely misplaced" and should be directed towards ferries or tax exemptions for long-haul flights. 

Increased flights

O'Leary was in Malta to announce the company's winter schedule. As well as flights to one new destination - Memmingen in Germany -  it will increase the frequency of its flights on 20 routes from Malta this winter.

These include Brussels, Catania, Dubin, Krakow, Rome and Vienna, the company said.

“We’re continuing to invest heavily in Malta,” O'Leary said, adding Ryanair was the “only airline” growing traffic in and out of the country.

When asked about Ryanair subsidiary Malta Air’s commitment to the island, O’Leary said that while the majority of the company’s planes were based elsewhere, it still based a “substantial number by Maltese standards” in the country.

Malta Air has 161 planes in its fleet, with 6 based in Malta and 99 in Italy, O’Leary said. They company supported over 300 highly paid aviation and engineering jobs he said.

"As an island economy, Malta is dependent on airlines like Ryanair to sustain its connectivity and to support its tourism industry," he told a news conference on Thursday.

"As Malta's biggest operator, Ryanair carries over 3.5 million passengers to and from Malta per year."

However, the company warned of the impact on Malta's connectivity of a proposed environmental tax on intra-EU flights as part of the EU's Energy Taxation Directive.

In a statement it said that EU countries such as Malta, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Greece and Cyprus, which depend on tourism and have no alternative but flying, are "forced to pay" all of Europe's emissions taxes.

O'Leary called on Ursual Von Der Leyen, the president of the European Commission to "get up off her lazy arse" and do more to extend emissions taxes to the more polluting long-haul flights. 

He also called for the European Commission to act against repeated strikes by air traffic controllers. 

The visit comes a year after O’Leary’s last trip to the country when he discussed his airlines' place in the local market and the ongoing issues facing Air Malta.