Boeing announced Monday a new high-capacity version of the 737 MAX, taking the 189-seater to up to a 200-seater, with Irish low-cost carrier (LCC) Ryanair the launch customer with a commitment for 100 aircraft plus options on 100 more.
The new variant will be called the 737 MAX 200, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and CEO Ray Conner said at a press conference in New York. Ryanair’s MAX 200s will be configured with 197 seats.
Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said the MAX 200s will be delivered between 2019 and 2023. He said the extra eight seats would generate about $1 million per aircraft in additional annual revenues and that the MAX 200 would be “a game changer” in the LCC market.
O’Leary said that room for the extra seats was being created by removing space from the front and rear galleys, which were not needed for low-cost short-haul flights, and using slimline seats. He said the result would be more leg room for passengers and a better cabin because it will be equipped with Boeing’s Sky Interior. The seats will have just over 30 inches of pitch.
Conner said an additional door would also be fitted to the MAX 200.
If all Ryanair options are exercised—and O’Leary indicated Monday this was highly likely, the deal is worth about $22 billion at list prices.
In a statement, Boeing said it developed the MAX 200 in response to the needs of the fast growing low-cost sector, which is forecasted to account for 35% of single-aisle airline capacity by 2033. The MAX 200 will provide carriers like Ryanair with up to 11 more seats of potential revenue and up to 5% lower operating costs than the 737 MAX 8, the manufacturer said.
Ryanair, a long-time exclusive Boeing customer with more than 2,200 737s in service or on order, has been in talks with Boeing for almost two years about the MAX, a re-engined and more fuel-efficient version of the 737 that will be sole-source powered by the CFM International LEAP 1B engine being developed for the MAX.
One of the key negotiation points has been the number of seats that could be put into the MAX. Ryanair made public its desire for a 200-seater, but had also stated it did not want to reduce passenger legroom from its current 30-inch pitch. Nor did the carrier want to reduce the number of onboard toilets. O’Leary said Monday there would always be toilets onboard Ryanair aircraft and passengers would never be charged to use them.
O’Leary said his company also had discussions with Airbus, which is developing the fuel-efficient A320neo, a rival to the MAX, and had pushed them “to a lesser extent” to launch a 200-seat version of the neo. He said those talks did not advance as far as with Boeing, “probably, I think, because [Airbus] believed we were wedded to Boeing.”
O’Leary predicted that with the MAX 200 launch, “there will be a flood of orders in the wake of this announcement.”
“These new game-changer aircraft will allow Ryanair to lower our costs and airfares, while improving our customer experience with more legroom and the Boeing Sky Interior,” he said.
Conner added that the MAX 200 was “the perfect airplane for the single, all-economy configuration.”
O’Leary also expressed his intent to start another airfares war in Europe, using the MAX 200’s additional revenue-generating capability and its greater operating efficiencies.
Asked about his ambitions to acquire widebodies and create a transatlantic operation, O’Leary was less bullish. He said such a long-haul operation, flying to the US, would be in the form of a sister company to Ryanair, and he would like to create something in the future, but it did not make sense for now. One of the problems, he said, was getting hold of long-haul aircraft. “The Gulf carriers have used up most of the supply,” he said.