Ryanair CEO Says United’s Boeing 737 Max Comments Were ‘Stupid’

Skift Take

Michael O’Leary has delivered a rousing endorsement of the beleaguered planemaker’s products. After last week’s public criticism from some U.S. airline chiefs, his intervention will be warmly welcomed by Boeing.

Ryanair is proving to be a good friend in a crisis for Boeing. Last week, the Irish airline confirmed it is providing extra on-location production oversight for the 737 Max program.

On Monday, Ryanair’s CEO gave a ringing endorsement of Boeing’s leaders – but he wasn’t so kind to everyone. 

Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary was particularly outspoken about United Airlines. It follows comments last week from Scott Kirby, United’s CEO, who said his carrier was examining “alternative plans” for fleet options without the Boeing 737 Max 10. 

The Max 10 isn’t certified yet and United has more than 200 of them on order – it has already been waiting five years for the first deliveries of the plane. While it is considered highly unlikely that United would scrap such a large and important contract, Kirby’s comments did raise eyebrows among industry insiders, including O’Leary.

“I thought this comment out of United last week was stupid. If they want to hand over or cancel some of their Max 10 deliveries, frankly Ryanair will take them. We’d be very happy to take aircraft early.”

Ryanair currently operates the older Boeing 737-800, as well as a newer high-capacity variant of the 737 Max 8. It also has orders for the largest Max 10, however it is not due to receive the plane until 2027.

O’Leary claimed that there would be no shortage of other buyers for any Boeing 737 Max aircraft unwanted by U.S. carriers, including interest from “rapacious aviation lessors”.

“The stupidity of the United comments last week is that [Airbus] order books are full out to 2030… If [United] want to delay or cancel any of those Max 10s, Ryanair will be the first people into Seattle to talk to Boeing about taking those aircraft, although I suspect that there will be a queue of customers waiting to take [them], given how tight the OEM supply is between now and 2030.”

A Chorus of Criticism

Kirby was not alone in his critique last week. Alaska Airlines CEO, Ben Minicucci, went one degree further and said in an NBC News interview that he was “angry” at the situation. Both executives said they maintained overall faith in the 737 Max program and its safety. 

The scrutiny followed a door panel on an Alaska 737 Max 9 blowing out in mid-air in early January. Despite Ryanair not operating any of the affected aircraft, O’Leary described the subsequent Max 9 grounding as “a disappointing setback.”

Stan Deal, CEO of Boeing Commercial Aircraft, has previously said the company was “deeply sorry for the significant disruption” caused by the recent 737 Max issues. The Max 9 is now returning to service following FAA-mandated inspections.

Although there wasn’t any specific mention of Stan Deal, O’Leary did find time to deliver a personal endorsement of Boeing’s Group CEO and CFO. The Ryanair boss described them as a “good team,” adding: “It is critical, we believe, to Boeing’s continued performance that we support [Dave] Calhoun and [Brian] West. I have concerns about the management in Seattle, but I have a lot of confidence in Calhoun and West. I think they’re on the right track.”

The Ryanair chief also struck an upbeat note about quality control at Boeing. He said the airline had noted improvements with “fewer delivery defects” on the dozen Max 8 jets the company received in late 2023. O’Leary had previously slammed Boeing after Ryanair engineers found a spanner under the floor of a newly delivered 737 Max. 

Ryanair Reports Q3 Earnings

O’Leary was speaking on Monday as the Irish low-cost giant reported its latest earnings. Although Ryanair made a net profit of €15m ($16.2m) in the third quarter, the underlying numbers disappointed some analysts. 

The headline figure was down from the €211m a year earlier, with higher fuel and staff costs cited as a key factor. The airline’s fuel bill during the period rose 35% to €1.2bn ($1.3bn). A high-profile spat with OTAs also softened the profitability of the period.

Describing the aircraft market as “constrained,” O’Leary said Ryanair was one of the few airlines to have secured a pipeline of “reasonably low-cost new aircraft deliveries” until 2030. 

As of December 31, the carrier has 136 Boeing 737 Max 8-200s in its fleet of 574 aircraft. Ryanair said it expects to have up to 174 737 Max 8 planes in its roster ahead of the peak 2024 summer period. 

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