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Ryanair orders further 75 Boeing 737 Max jets worth up to £6.7bn

Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Lindsey Wasson/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Lindsey Wasson/Reuters

Ryanair has ordered a further 75 Boeing 737 Max planes worth up to $9bn (£6.7bn), defying aviation industry pessimism over coronavirus and concerns that the public may avoid the model due to safety fears.

Europe’s biggest short-haul airline has now ordered a total of 210 of the aircraft that its chief executive, Michael O’Leary, has described as a “gamechanger” for the carrier’s business model.

The airline is likely to have negotiated a substantial saving on the planes. O’Leary said he obtained a “modest discount” on the fleet, as well as compensation for the delay in delivering the original order of the 737 Max, which was grounded after two crashes caused by its automated systems killed a total of 346 people.

First deliveries of Ryanair’s 737-8-200 Max variant are expected in the spring, and O’Leary said he hoped to have up to 30 of the planes in service in time for the summer 2021 peak season. Speaking as the contract was formally signed in Washington DC, he said the Max was the “most scrutinised and audited aircraft in history”.

He said the European regulator, Easa, had done an extraordinary review of all aspects of flight control systems, and all Ryanair pilots would have mandatory training on three Max simulators the airline had already bought and installed. “I cannot tell you how confident we are in the safety … Passengers are going to love it.”

He dismissed the suggestion that many would avoid it on safety grounds, adding: “Any customer who doesn’t want to fly on the Max can offload and fly on the next NG, no problem.” The 737NG is an earlier variant of the aircraft that the airline operates.

O’Leary said the Max was quieter, 16% more fuel efficient, and had more legroom than the current fleet, despite incorporating more seats per plane. “This aircraft is going to transform Ryanair’s future … our passengers will be travelling with lower fares and in more comfort. We believe the combination of vaccines and these new planes will lead us back into a period of growth.”

Traffic has slumped since the pandemic but O’Leary forecast customer numbers would surpass the 149 million from 2019 by 2022, rising to 200 million customers annually by 2026.

Ryanair’s order is the largest for the Max since 2018, before the disasters in Indonesia and Ethiopia resulted in the plane being withdrawn from service worldwide. IAG, the owner of British Airways, also made a public show of faith in the Max last year with a “letter of intent” to buy up to 200 of the model, at a substantial discount.

The US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration, certified the Max last month as safe to fly and other regulators around the world are expected to allow the plane back in the skies soon.

Dave Calhoun, the president and chief executive of Boeing, said it was “gratified that Ryanair is once again placing its confidence in the Boeing 737 family”, and that it was focused on delivering delayed plane orders to the airline and others in the new year. He said: “We firmly believe in this airplane and we will continue the work to re-earn the trust of all of our customers.”

Calhoun said it had been “one rough year” for the US aircraft manufacturer, but it had worked with regulators to “dot every i and cross every t” in examining the 737 Max, and was “utterly confident in the product”.

The plane has been redesigned after investigators pointed to problems with sensors and the anti-stall software known as MCAS as causes of the Lion Air crash in October 2018 and the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March 2019.