Low-cost carrier Ryanair has reiterated that its discussions with Chinese airframer Comac on the potential development of a stretched 199-seat variant of its C919 twinjet are serious and could still yield an order for delivery in the 2018-20 timeframe.

Industry observers have been quick to brand Ryanair's flirtation with the Chinese as little more than a means of beating down incumbent aircraft supplier Boeing on price. The final delivery under its current order for 189-seat 737-800s is due to take place later this year.

However, Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary insists the airline's talks with Comac represent "a genuine, serious commitment". He believes that all carriers should welcome the emergence of the state-owned airframer as a serious player in commercial aviation - "a real, credible third manufacturer" in the mainline narrowbody market - as it will serve to drive down prices.

"It's a great deal for airlines all around the world," he says. "If, all of a sudden, we are all buying Chinese-built aircraft then Airbus and Boeing's pricing strategy gets holed below the waterline."

Interest in the C919 was revealed by British Airways parent International Airlines Group at the Farnborough air show in July, where it signed a memorandum of understanding to work with Comac on the development of the CFM International Leap-1C-powered C919. O'Leary says IAG's move only serves to add "credibility" to the programme.

Any order from Ryanair, however, is contingent on Comac agreeing to make a stretched variant of the C919. The baseline model is due to enter service in 2016 with up to 168 seats in an all-economy configuration.

Nonetheless, Ryanair is continuing its discussions with Boeing over a potential new near-term order. O'Leary says price is the main sticking point, although he has again expressed his concerns over the design of the re-engined 737 Max, citing the weight increase over the current generation 737-800 as a particular worry.

He adds, however: "We are in ongoing discussions with Boeing and as soon as we can reach an agreement on price we'll place an order. It could be the -800 or the Max, whichever they discount the most - we'd buy a dog if it was cheap enough.

"We'd like to place an order, but only when the price is right."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news