Ryanair goads Boeing as jetmaker meets rival easyJet

Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary attends a Reuters Newsmaker event in London
FILE PHOTO: Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary speaks during a Reuters Newsmaker event in London, Britain October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

March 31, 2022

By Tim Hepher

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The boss of Irish budget carrier Ryanair raised the stakes in a feud with Boeing over jet prices by saying he could do without a long-stalled deal to buy the 737 MAX 10 – even as Boeing appeared to woo his arch-rival easyJet.

The latest salvo in a dispute between Europe’s largest low-cost airline group and Boeing, the exclusive supplier of its main fleet, came as airline chiefs met for the first time in two years to review a pandemic recovery clouded by war in Ukraine.

Ryanair last year walked away from negotiations with Boeing for 200 of its largest type of single-aisle jet, the 737 MAX 10, accusing the planemaker of being “delusional” about prices.

On Thursday, Chief Executive Michael O’Leary noted no signs of a breakthrough but said he would meet Boeing in April.

“We have to wait for Boeing to be in a kind of headspace for talking about MAX 10s. At the moment, they’re dealing with a backlog of deliveries, 777 issues, design delays or certification delays on the MAX 10. They have a whole heap of problems,” O’Leary told Reuters.

“There are many times in my life that I missed the market, there’s always that possibility. But you know, even if we have, we’re very content where we are; we have 210 aircraft deliveries to take over the next five years,” he said in an interview.

Boeing officials had no immediate comment.

The U.S. company has said in response to previous criticism from Ryanair that it is committed to supporting its partner but will “continue to be disciplined” in commercial decisions.

O’Leary, hoping to benefit from bargain prices as Boeing claws its way back from a recent safety crisis, urged Boeing to fight harder for customers after what he described as a series of market losses to single-aisle leader Airbus.

“Boeing need to begin to fight back and win back market share from Airbus,” he said in an interview.

SHIFTING ALLIANCES

But in an unusual twist, Boeing wasted no time in holding a semi-public pow-wow with Ryanair’s rival easyJet, a key Airbus customer, just yards away at the A4E airlines conference.

EasyJet Chief Executive Johan Lundgren was seen huddling with a group of Boeing executives including Senior Vice-President of Commercial Sales & Marketing Ihssane Mounir, the U.S. company’s sales boss.

Mounir declined to comment on the half-hour discussion, held in the corner of a quiet public space on conference sidelines.

“As you would expect, we informally speak with others in the industry at industry events,” an easyJet spokeswoman said.

An Airbus spokesman said, “We have full trust in our partner easyJet and we never comment on our customers’ private agendas.”

It is not uncommon for airlines and manufacturers to chat informally at such gatherings, but the meeting between senior officials cutting across industry alliances caused a buzz.

“Yes, everyone noticed that,” a European delegate said.

Airbus has long been the exclusive supplier for easyJet, while Ryanair is a die-hard Boeing customer apart from a sub-fleet of leased Airbus jets inherited through acquisition.

The airline industry, hungry for new deals after pandemic losses, has seen a series of defections in recent months.

Boeing lost medium-haul contests to Airbus at Dutch KLM https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/airbus-wins-dominant-share-air-france-klm-jet-purchase-sources-2021-12-16 and Australia’s Qantas https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/airbus-wins-order-renew-qantas-fleet-sources-2021-12-15 but scored an unexpected victory by poaching U.S. budget carrier Allegiant Air, which had previously relied on used Airbus jets.

Such “flips” are rare due to the cost of retraining pilots, but reflect fierce competition for new business as the aerospace industry seeks to recover from its worst-ever recession.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Additional reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Jason Neely and Nick Macfie)