The recession could lead to only four European airlines surviving, the boss of budget carrier Ryanair has predicted.

Five to six European airlines could go bankrupt by Christmas, added Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary.

Eventually only British Airways, German carrier Lufthansa, Air France and Ryanair would survive, he forecast.

Mr O’Leary said Europe “needed a recession” as an economic downturn got rid of loss-making airlines and made aircraft purchasing cheaper.

He also held out hope of a new transatlantic low-cost operation within three years with economy fares of only £10, but stressed that this would not be operated by Ryanair and would be a separate company.

Mr O’Leary was speaking in London as Ryanair reported half-year profits of £170 million for six months to September 30 – a dip in profits of 47 per cent.

The Irish carrier said it expected to make losses in the next six months but that average fares would dip by between 15 per cent and 20 per cent.

Mr O’Leary said Ryanair had had a “remarkable performance” in recent months and that passenger numbers were up 18 per cent in the year to October 2008. He said: “We need a recession. We have had 10 years of growth. A recession gets rid of crappy loss-making airlines and it means we can buy aircraft more cheaply. We think interest rates should stay high and politicians should let the economy right itself normally.”

He thought the recession would be “deep and dark” and could last 18 months.

Asked about a low-cost transatlantic operation, he said that it could come about if Ryanair could buy between 50 and 60 long-haul aircraft.

He said: “We would not have any links with the company that would run this apart from the fact that we would envisage flights being made across the Atlantic from some of our European bases. We are not going to be a transatlantic airline ourselves. We never will.”

Transatlantic flights would go to secondary airports. At New York they would go not into John F Kennedy International but possibly into nearby Newark.

The transatlantic operation could have four or five aircraft based at eight to 10 European bases including London, Dublin, Rome and Frankfurt, with destinations including Los Angeles, Florida and Denver in Colorado. While economy fares could be £10, one-way business class fares would be about £1,000.