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

As many as five to six European airlines could go bankrupt between now and Christmas, added Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary.

And eventually just British Airways, German carrier Lufthansa, Air France and Ryanair will survive, he forecast.

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

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

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

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

Mr O’Leary said on Monday that Ryanair had completed a “remarkable performance” over the last few months and that passenger numbers were up 18% in October 2008 compared with October 2007.

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.”