Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON

Pricing and commonality issues were behind Ryanair's selection of the Boeing 737-800 over the Airbus A320, in a deal which will see the the Irish low fare airline taking up to 45 of the Next Generation 737 models. Deliveries start next year.

The airline, which operates from London Stansted, has placed firm orders for 25 189-seat 737-800s, plus 20 options. Ryanair's first 737-800 wlll arrive in March 1999, with aircraft following at a rate of five a year. Deliveries of the options are integrated with the firmly ordered aircraft from 2001.

Ryanair already has 20 130-seat 737-200s in service, and will use the new aircraft primarily for expansion, says the airline's chief executive Michael O'Leary. "We are growing at around 25-30% per year and the new aircraft will be used to sustain that growth," he says, adding that the replacement of the -200 will not need to be addressed until at least 2002. Even with the 737-800 acquisition, O'Leary does not rule out purchasing further 737-200s if "attractive propositions" become available.

O'Leary says that the selection went "right down to the wire", with Boeing finally favoured for a combination of factors. "It was a competitive evaluation, and obviously pricing was an issue," he says. "The 737-800 also offers nine more seats than the A320 and has the advantage that we already have familiarity with the 737, which will enable an easier transition," he adds. Ryanair's stated ambition is to be the "Southwest Airlines" of Europe, and O'Leary sees the 45 aircraft deal as just the start of its new 737 fleet.

Source: Flight International