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Ryanair to buy 100 Boeing 737 jets, option for 100 more

Ryanair planes on the tarmac in Stansted, U.K.
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Ryanair Holdings, Europe's largest low-cost carrier, signed a deal on Monday to buy 100 Boeing 737 MAX jetliners for up to $11 billion, launching a new version of the single-aisle plane that will allow it to squeeze in more passengers.

The Irish airline also secured options on 100 more of the modified 737 MAX 8s, bringing the value of the deal to about $22 billion, if all the options are exercised.

Ryanair's chief executive officer, Michael O'Leary, said he aimed for the airline to carry 150 million passengers a year by 2024, up from an earlier target of 120 million and up from the about 82 million passengers it carried in 2013.

Ryanair already is the largest airline in Europe, and O'Leary said the new Boeing planes will further cut Ryanair's operating costs, allowing it to take market share from legacy carriers such as Lufthansa, SAS, British Airways and Alitalia.

"It means that we're going to expand and grow very strongly in Europe, both in new markets and in going in and taking traffic away from incumbent carriers,'' he said at a press conference in New York where he and Boeing Chief Executive Ray Conner signed the deal.

"I hope it will hasten in an era of a new price war in Europe over the next 10 years, which like all the old price wars, Ryanair will win.''

O'Leary said the new planes, which will have two additional doors, will seat eight more passengers than the 737-800 models currently in Ryanair's fleet. The new planes reduce fuel consumption by about 18 percent compared with current models, and with the additional seats the operating cost would be about 20 percent lower, O'Leary said.

O'Leary said the extra seats would generate about 1 million euros of additional revenue per plane per year, most of which will go to the bottom line.

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Last year Ryanair placed a $15.6 billion order for 175 Boeing 737-800 jets, but O'Leary said in July he would keep that order, even as he studied the higher-density MAX version.

Reuters reported on Friday that Ryanair was in advanced talks to order at least 100 MAX jetliners.

Boeing shares rose 2.5 percent to $127.83, while Ryanair stock was off 0.1 percent to 7.483 pounds.

Boeing's Conner said low-cost carriers could eventually make up 35 percent of the market for single-aisle airplanes. Boeing's chief 737 competitor, Airbus Group's A320, also is getting refreshed with new engines.

O'Leary said the new MAX jets would not allow Ryanair to offer transatlantic service, because the range is not sufficient to reach enough U.S. cities.

Ryanair has a plan to operate a long-haul service as a subsidiary, but needs 30 to 50 long-haul aircraft to make it work.

"The availability (of those jets) just isn't there for another four or five years,'' O'Leary said.

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--By Reuters