Ryanair willing to buy 400 aircraft from Chinese firm
O'Leary denies interest in new 200-seater plane is ploy to pressure Boeing back to negotiating table
Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary reckons the airline could order as many as 400 aircraft from Chinese manufacturer Comac if it can design a 200-seater variant of a new jet and can offer terms acceptable to the low-cost carrier. If it comes off, the deal would be worth billions of euro to the Chinese firm.
Speaking to the Irish Independent yesterday, Mr O'Leary said Ryanair would be willing to buy between 200 and 400 aircraft from Shanghai-headquartered Comac, which is controlled by the Chinese government.
He said that Ryanair might initially buy 30 or 40 174-seater versions of Comac's C919 so that pilots and staff would already be trained on the aircraft type before a 200-seater variant would enter service.
Those smaller aircraft could come into service with Ryanair by about 2016.
Comac is still designing the C919 and the first test flight is slated to take place in September 2014.
Under aviation rules, Ryanair would be able to fly a near-200-seater aircraft without having to increase the number of cabin crew beyond the four used on board its existing Boeing 737 jets, which have 189 seats.
Ryanair operates an all-Boeing fleet, but the two companies failed to come to an agreement back in 2009 when the airline played hardball over attempts to place an order for 200 aircraft with a list price of about $14bn (€9.7bn).
Mr O'Leary denied the signing with Comac of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) yesterday in Paris, as the city hosted its annual airshow, was an attempt to pressurise Boeing back to the negotiating table.
"We can't bully Boeing. It's a big company and we still have a relationship with them," he said.
Ryanair is due to take delivery of a remaining 30 aircraft from Boeing by the start of next year, bringing its fleet size to 300 by 2013.
The MOU between Ryanair and Comac will see the Irish airline have input into how the Chinese company could develop a near 200-seater version of its C919 aircraft.
Mr O'Leary described Comac as a "real alternative" to Boeing and Airbus.
Comac already has an MOU with British Airways.
"We're an obvious candidate for Comac and we'd place a big order with them. We'll commit tomorrow if they meet our requirements," added Mr O'Leary, who would expect a Comac 200-seater to be about 10pc cheaper than any equivalent alternative.
Mr O'Leary also said Ryanair could conceivably operate two aircraft types, with Comac jets being used to populate new bases if they eventually became operational with the airline.
The Ryanair chief executive also said the airline would probably ground 40 aircraft in the winter of 2012-2013 -- that's half the number it is leaving on the tarmac this coming winter.
Mr O'Leary said none were likely to be grounded during the 2013-2014 winter.
He also wouldn't rule out an acquisition of an existing airline besides Aer Lingus to fuel future growth, but said it would not be the preferred option.
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner lands during the 49th Paris Air Show at the Le Bourget airport, near Paris yesterday. Plane manufacturers and buyers do deals at the showcase event. Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary, a customer of Boeing, is talking to Chinese maker Comac about an order. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol