Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary has claimed seats on the airline's flights could be free by 2026.

Speaking on Tuesday (22 November), the Ryanair supremo revealed he hopes to offer zero-cost fares, with the airline profiting from sharing revenues with airports where it had attracted passengers. The ambitious plan, O'Leary told the Airport Operators Association conference in London, was inspired by the increasingly financially advantageous deals European airports have offered Ryanair over recent years.

This, coupled with a potential reduction of air passenger duty (APD), means the Irish carrier could be able to give away flights for free within a decade.

"The challenge for us in the future is to keep driving air fares down," he said.

"I have this vision that in the next five to 10 years the air fares on Ryanair will be free, in which case the flights will be full, and we will be making our money out of sharing the airport revenues; of all the people who will be running through airports, and getting a share of the shopping and the retail revenues at airports."

Last week, the British Infrastructure Group (BIG) called for the government to cut APD by 50% in its Autumn Statement, claiming the tax poses an obstacle to post-Brexit Britain's chances of trading outside Europe.

BIG said reducing the tax would be a first step, before scrapping it altogether in 2017, following the example set by Ireland. Scotland, meanwhile, has already announced it will halve APD in 2018.

"If APD is gone: at many airports I'm paying more than £20 already with APD and fees, if I start getting that back, why not? I'm doing seat sales this week at £4 and I'm paying the £13 APD – I'm paying you to fly with me," O'Leary added.

"Instead of promotional tickets being £9 or £5 they will be free."

Earlier this month, O'Leary said average fares will fall between 13% and 15% on flights to and from the UK over the next six months, adding the company expects to carry approximately 119 million passengers this year, with capacity set to increase to 200 million by 2024.

The bulk of that growth, O'Leary added, would come from "taking price-sensitive passengers off incumbents like Air Berlin in Germany, Lot in Poland and Alitalia in Italy".

"I think it will happen. It just won't happen at Heathrow or those big hub airports," he added.

"But most of the other airports who are looking for big traffic growth, that process is already starting to happen, lowering airport fees and some of the charges."