Analysis: Ryanair Holds in Poker Game with Boeing

 - September 7, 2021, 9:03 AM
Ryanair has taken delivery of 12 Boeing 737 Max-200s. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons (BY) by kitmasterbloke)

Ryanair’s confirmation that it has ended 10 months of negotiations with Boeing over an anticipated order for up to 200 737 Max 10s at face value opens a door for the Airbus sales team. However, a past history of seemingly futile narrowbody sales campaigns appears to have left Boeing’s European rival reticent over dealings with the low-cost carrier and its hard-bargaining boss Michael O’Leary.

“We do not share Boeing’s optimistic pricing outlook, although this may explain why in recent weeks other large Boeing customers such as Delta and Jet2 have been placing new orders with Airbus, rather than Boeing,” O’Leary quipped in a September 6 statement. However, in the same breath, the Ryanair CEO added that the airline already has plenty of coming Max deliveries over the next five years, taking its fleet to more than 600. That might suggest that he plans to “hold” in what appears to be the latest round of poker with the U.S. airframer.

Ryanair is set to receive more than 200 Max jets through 2025, dubbing the models as “Gamechanger” aircraft. “We are disappointed we couldn’t reach an agreement with Boeing on a Max 10 order,” O’Leary said. “However, Boeing has a more optimistic outlook on aircraft pricing than we do, and we have a disciplined track record of not paying high prices for aircraft.”

If Ryanair’s existing fleet growth plan really is sufficient to cover projected increases in traffic, which O’Leary says is bouncing back “all over Europe as the continent recovers from the Covid pandemic,” that somewhat begs the question of why it even began negotiations for the 230-seat Max 10 in the fall of 2020. As recently as August 31, O’Leary told a press conference in Brussels that he was “making progress” in agreeing on pricing with Boeing “sometime before the summer of 2022.”

Ryanair stands as the largest European customer for the 737 Max, having placed firm orders for 210 of the Max 8-200 variant. The Irish low-cost carrier received its first Max 8-200 configured with 197 seats in June and now has taken delivery of 12 of the type. Schedules call for a further 55 to join the group’s fleet before summer next year.

Neither Boeing nor Airbus has commented on the breakdown in negotiations with Ryanair. On September 6, Lufthansa started operations with its first A320 narrowbody, an A321neo, equipped with the new Airbus Single-Aisle Airspace cabin. It became the first European operator to introduce the new interior configuration, which includes slimmer sidewall panels to increase personal space, improved windows and lighting, and larger overhead bins for baggage.