Ryanair group chief executive Michael O'Leary is frustrated that the Boeing 737 Max grounding is slowing the operator's capacity growth, but is "reasonably confident" that the aircraft will return to service in Europe by early 2020.
The situation "will slow down our growth into summer 2020", O'Leary states during a Reuters Newsmakers discussion forum on 1 October, adding that "when an opportunity comes up like the failure of Thomas Cook... we want to be able to grow faster, not slower".
He adds that there could be further base cuts and job losses at the Irish carrier, if its expectation that the Max will be cleared to fly again "either this side of Christmas or maybe the far side of Christmas" proves too optimistic.
Those cuts would come despite Ryanair's moves to delay the exit of some 737NGs from its fleet to partially offset the lack of Max deliveries.
He notes, however, that amid his frustration over the Max situation, "safety is our main priority".
Reiterating earlier estimates that Ryanair would only be able to take about half of its Max backlog by the 2020 summer season, O'Leary explains that at maximum capacity, the airline can receive eight new aircraft per month.
"If it's back flying by January/February... we could take maybe 30/40 aircraft for next year, but we won't be able to take all 60," he states, referring to the backlog of Max deliveries the carrier would have accrued by the 2020 summer season.
"If it's slightly later than that, it could come down to 30. Most of our planning at the moment is based on 30 Max aircraft for next year."
Any further delay will mean "we have to look again at our summer 2020 capacity. That might involve more cuts and some more job losses," O'Leary says.
In early August, the Ryanair chief had already stated that "we will need about 600 less pilots and cabin crew for summer 2020" based on the assumption that the operator would receive around 30 Max jets during 2020.
Ryanair is taking steps to mitigate the impact of the Max grounding, O'Leary says, stating that "about 15 of our aircraft shortage next summer will be made up by postponing aircraft sales and extending leases".
He cites a deal reach with lessor GECAS, under which Ryanair will keep seven of 10 "older 737NGs" that the operator had originally intended to sell this winter.
"We're also extending some of the aircraft that are coming off lease at the moment," he says, adding: "I think it's seven or eight aircraft – we're extending leases for another 12 months."
Ryanair had been due to receive its first 737 Max 8 in April 2019, but Boeing suspended deliveries in March in the wake of the jets' global grounding.
Cirium fleets data shows that Ryanair has 423 737NGs in service. It has 135 Max 8s on firm order and holds options on a further 75.