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.
Ryanair, which is already the leading European customer for the troubled Boeing 737 Max, is ordering more jets in bulk – at a price believed to be less than half the list price of $125m (£94m) per aircraft.
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 75 options that it has are expected to be converted to firm orders, and industry rumours suggest that Ryanair could order up to 100 more 737 Max aircraft to support its expansion plans.
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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