One of the world's largest airlines says it will carry fewer passengers than expected going forward and could even close airport bases as it waits for the Boeing 737 Max to return.
Ryanair, Europe's top airline by seating capacity in 2018, cut its passenger growth forecast by 4% and said it would discuss with airports and unions which underperforming or loss-making bases could face cutbacks or even close altogether.
It said this was due to delays with the return of the Boeing 737 Max. New aircraft of the model type have not been delivered as the plane remains grounded while regulators find more problems with the planes.
Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary said that the airline still had confidence in the 737 Max but that it would be "prudent" to think it might not return until as late as December.
One of the world's largest airlines says it expects to carry fewer passengers and could cut operations at some of its airport bases as a result of the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max.
Ryanair on Monday said that it expected to carry 3% more passengers in summer 2020 than in summer 2019 — but that it had previously expected to carry 7% more passengers.
According to Reuters, it said it expected to carry 157 million passengers in the year up to March 2021, while it had previously expected to carry 162 million.
The Irish airline — the fifth-biggest in the world by seating capacity in 2018 — also said that it could reduce operations at some of its airport bases this winter and next summer and may even close some altogether.
It did not specify how many bases might be affected or which ones.
"We are starting a series of discussions with our airports to determine which of Ryanair's underperforming or loss-making bases should suffer these short-term cuts and/or closures from November 2019," CEO Michael O'Leary said in a statement.
Ryanair said it would start talking to airports to see which of its bases were underperforming or making a loss and consider whether their operations could be scaled back or even stopped starting in November.
It has 83 bases across Europe and North Africa, including in Belfast, Northern Ireland; Bratislava, Slovakia; Milan; Frankfurt, Germany; and Berlin. Bases are airports where Ryanair permanently keeps both staff and aircraft.
Ryanair blamed the lower forecasts on delays in the return of the Boeing 737 Max plane, which has been grounded around the world since March after a second fatal crash involving the plane in five months. The two crashes together killed 346 people, and software issues are at the center of investigations into both crashes.
While Ryanair was not flying any of the 737 Max planes it had ordered before the crashes occurred, the grounding has delayed the deliveries of new planes to Ryanair.
It has ordered 135 of the 737 Max planes, with options to add another 75 to its fleet.
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It is unclear when regulators will certify the 737 Max to fly again after Boeing updates the plane. New issues have caused the plane to remain grounded past the July date by which O'Leary previously thought the plane would return.
O'Leary said in a statement on Monday that while Boeing estimated the plane would return around September, the airline thought it would be "prudent to plan for that date to slip by some months, possibly as late as December."
Ryanair also faces another issue as it ordered a variant of the 737 Max 8 called the 737 Max 200, which O'Leary said would need to be certified separately by US and European regulators.
He estimated that this would happen within two months of the other Max planes.
Ryanair's fleet is made up solely of Boeing 737-800 planes, and O'Leary asserted that the airline was still confident in adding the 737 Max model.
"Ryanair remains committed to the 737 Max aircraft and now expects that it will return to flying service before the end of 2019; however, the exact date of this return remains uncertain," he said.
But as with many other airlines, Ryanair is looking for compensation from Boeing over the aircraft delays.
Ryanair also appears to be rebranding 737 Max planes to remove the "Max" reference. Many airlines are looking for ways to soothe customer fears as many say they do not want to fly on the aircraft, even when Boeing's updates are approved.
Many airlines have taken a financial hit from Boeing's crisis, and US airlines are canceling thousands of flights into November.
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