Europe’s biggest budget airline is planning to grow even larger – by repeating its trick of ordering dozens of new aircraft when no one else is buying.
The airline had 135 of the aircraft on order already, which have yet to be delivered. It has now increased this order to 210, taking the total value of the contract to $22bn (£16.3bn)
Ryanair and Boeing said that they have agreed compensation for the direct costs incurred by the airline as a result of the delay in delivery for the existing order.
A portion of this compensation is said to have gone into reducing the price of the aircraft, which has “encouraged” Ryanair to increase its order.
All the aircraft will be delivered over a four-year period between spring 2021 and December 2024.
Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary said: "We hope to take delivery of at least 50 of these aircraft in 2021, subject to Boeing recovering its manufacturing output to deliver them.
"For as long as the Covid-19 pandemic depresses air travel, we will use these new aircraft to replace some of our older Boeing NG fleet, which will remain grounded until pre-Covid demand returns.
“But as soon as the Covid-19 virus recedes – and it will in 2021 with the rollout of multiple effective vaccines – Ryanair and our partner airports across Europe will – with these environmentally efficient aircraft - rapidly restore flights and schedules, recover lost traffic and help the nations of Europe recover their tourism industry, and get young people back to work across the cities, beaches, and ski resorts of the EU.”
But many passengers have expressed doubts about the plane, which remains grounded after two fatal crashes.
The Boeing 737 Max was banned from carrying passengers worldwide in March 2019 after two fatal accidents blamed on a new anti-stall system.
In October 2018, 189 people died on board a Lion Air 737 Max when it plunged into the Java Sea shortly after take-off from Jakarta in Indonesia.
Five months later, an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max crashed in similar circumstances as the pilots battled to overcome software that forced the nose of the plane down. All 157 passengers and crew died.
Both accidents were caused by a new flight-control system activated by a single faulty sensor.
Boeing has spent the past 20 months modifying the system and making additional safety improvements. The 737 Max has been cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European regulator has indicated it will soon be cleared for take-off.
Unlike Tui and Norwegian, who operated the Max before the grounding, Ryanair has yet to take delivery of any of the 135 aircraft it has on firm order.
But the airline intends to fly the latest version of the 737 from summer 2021 – and is pinning its plans for expansion on dozens more of the plane.
The order constitutes a godsend for Boeing at a time when the aviation industry is in its deepest-ever crisis and the company has suffered severe reputational as well as financial damage as a result of the tragedies.
Last month Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, told an aviation conference: “We will be unchallenged in Europe in the next 10, 20 years.”
Mr O'Leary joined Ryanair in 1988, when it was a small and failing carrier between Ireland and the UK. He is credited with turning it into the dominant force in European low-cost aviation.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, he ordered 100 Boeing 737-800 aircraft, with options on 50 more. It was the world's biggest aircraft order of 2001.
Ryanair is the safest airline in the world in terms of the number of passengers flown without a fatality. But in a snap one-hour Twitter poll conducted by The Independent, almost three-quarters of the 1,062 self-selecting voters said they would not be happy to step on board.
Only 24.6 per cent said they would be happy to do so.
American Airlines is expected to be the first carrier to re-launch the jet. It plans to fly between Miami and New York’s La Guardia airport on 29 December.
This week the airline is running five “flights to nowhere” for staff at both airports, as well as its main base in Dallas-Fort Worth in Texas.
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