Ryanair plans to grow its fleet to 400 aircraft in 2018 from around 300 today. Of the 175 additional 737s, 100 will be used for expansion and 75 as replacements. O'Leary says one of the most important aspects of the -800 is that it can hold more seats than the A320. “Boeing doesn't get enough credit for the phenomenal success of Ryanair,” he notes.
While Ryanair had expressed an interest in the Comac C919, O'Leary now says that aircraft is too small for the airline. However, he says Ryanair would look at it again if Comac introduces a stretched version, planned to enter service early in the next decade.
Boeing's success with Ryanair is mirrored by Airbus's with EasyJet, which signed a preliminary agreement to acquire up to 200 A320NEOs and 35 A320s. The deal is still subject to shareholder approval and has already hit some very public opposition by founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who has been against further expansion of the airline in favor of focusing more on shareholder value.
The EasyJet deal is an even bigger blow for Bombardier than for Boeing. The Canadian manufacturer had been pitching a 160-seat version of its CS300 against Boeing and Airbus narrowbodies and had high hopes that an EasyJet buy would become the breakthrough for its new jet. Bombardier says it is still in discussions with EasyJet about a possible order.
Once shareholders approve the agreement, EasyJet plans to place a firm order for 100 NEOs plus 100 options. The 35 A320s are options that are converted from a previous deal. The current-generation aircraft are to be delivered in 2015-17. The airline plans to take on the NEOs in 2017-22.
EasyJet says it is aiming for a fleet of 276 aircraft in 2022, but the availability of options and a flexible retirement schedule for its existing aircraft could put the fleet size at 165-298. The carrier plans to use 85 of the 135 A320s and NEOs to replace aging aircraft.
The massive commitments made here last week—along with Norwegian Air Shuttle orders for more than 200 MAXs and NEOs in January 2012—beg the question of whether overcapacity is building up in the European direct services market and will likely lead to more competition between low-cost carriers, which they have so far sought to avoid. The deals are also likely to move more low-fare traffic on trunk routes that have been the domain of legacy airlines.