The jury is still out about the true motive behind Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary's revelation during the Paris air show that he was in talks with China's Comac about its C919 narrowbody.

"We have started discussions on pricing. If we do order there is no point for us to order just a few - it would be over 200 aircraft," O'Leary says.

Ryanair has about 30 more Boeing 737s to come until early 2012, but has so far failed to agree terms with Boeing or Airbus covering a further large aircraft deal.

O'Leary foresees a need for new deliveries to begin in 2017.

"I suppose we treated Michael O'Leary's comments as being a bit cynical: 'he's just going to get Boeing and Airbus to the table'. But nothing would surprise us," said Phil Seymour, president of consultants IBA, at Flightglobal's Aviation Finance Europe conference in July.

The agreement will see the airline working with Comac on the design of the C919. Ryanair is keen on a stretched 200-seat version of the C919, says O'Leary, who added that the C919 baseline model is "a little bit small".

The C919, which is scheduled to enter service in 2016, seats 168 passengers in an all-economy configuration. Ryanair's 737-800s have 189 seats.

Clive Lewis, of UK consultancy Achieving The Difference, told Airline Business earlier this year he thinks a big deal with a western budget airline for one of the new airliners in development in China and Russia was "highly possible...where the old business model of low purchase price or lower cost of debt could be revived".

"Whether it's going to be this generation of the Comac aeroplane or not [that Ryanair is talking about], you could easily paint a scenario where, in half a generation, Comac had an aeroplane which in every respect betters the performance of the Airbus or Boeing equivalent," says Chris Tarry, of analysts CTAIRA.

Source: Airline Business