The world's 5th largest airline blames the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max as it says it expects to carry fewer passengers and may even close some of its airport bases

Ryanair CEO Michael O'LearyRyanair CEO Michael O'Leary at a news conference in Belgium in October 2018.REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

  • One of the world's largest airlines said it will carry fewer passengers and could even close airport bases as it waits for the Boeing 737 Max to return.
  • Ryanair, Europe's top airline by passenger numbers in 2019, cut its passenger growth forecast by 4% and said it will discuss with airports and unions what underperforming or loss-making bases could be cut, or even completely closed.
  • It said that this was due to ongoing delays with the return of the Boeing 737 Max, which have not been delivered as they remain grounded while regulators find more problems with the planes.
  • Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary said that the airline still has confidence in the 737 Max, but it would be "prudent" to think that it might not return until as late as December.
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One of the world's largest airlines says it expects to carry fewer passengers and could cut operations at some of its airport bases as a result of the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max.

Ryanair said on Monday that it now expects to carry 3% more passengers in summer 2020 than in summer 2019 - but that it had previously expected to carry 7% more passengers.

According to Reuters, it said that it expects to carry 157 million passengers in the year up to March 2021, while it had previously expected to carry 162 million.

The Irish airline - currently the fifth biggest in the world by passenger numbers - also said that it could cut operations at some of its airport bases for winter 2019 and summer 2020, and may even close some altogether.

It did not specify how many bases may be affected, or which ones.

"We are starting a series of discussions with our airports to determine which of Ryanair's underperforming or loss making bases should suffer these short term cuts and/or closures from November 2019," CEO Michael O'Leary said in a statement.

boeing ryanairPresident and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes Ray Conner (R) and Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary share a light hearted moment as they pose during a signing ceremony at the 50th Paris Air Show, at the Le Bourget airport near Paris, June 19, 2013.REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Ryanair said it would start talking to airports to see which of its bases were underperforming or making a loss, and consider if their operations could be cut or even stopped from November,

It currently has 83 bases across Europe and North Africa, including in Belfast, Bratislava, Milan, Frankfurt, and Berlin. Bases are airports where Ryanair permanently keeps both staff and aircraft.

Read more: Ryanair appears to be rebranding its Boeing 737 Max jets as customers say they don't want to fly on the plane after 2 fatal crashes

Ryanair blamed the lower forecasts on delays in the return of the Boeing 737 Max plane, which has been grounded around the world since March after a second fatal crash involving the plane. The two crashes killed 346 people.

While Ryanair was not flying any of the 737 Max planes that it had ordered before the crashes occurred, the grounding has delayed the deliveries of these planes to Ryanair.

It has ordered 135 737 Max planes, with options to add another 75 to its fleet.

Ethiopia Airlines crashPeople stand near debris at the crash site of the Ethiopia Airlines flight in Ethiopia, on March 11, 2019.MICHAEL TEWELDE/AFP/Getty Images

There is no set time yet for when the 737 Max will be certified to fly again by regulators after Boeing updates the plane. New issues mean that the plane has remained grounded past the July date by which Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary previously thought the plane would return.

O'Leary said in a statement on Monday that while Boeing estimates the plane to return close to September, the airline thought it would be "prudent to plan for that date to slip by some months, possibly as late as December."

Ryanair also faces another issue as it ordered a variant of the 737 Max 8 called the 737 Max 200, which O'Leary said would need to be certified separately by US and European regulators.

He estimated that this would happen within two months of than the other Max planes.

FILE PHOTO - Unpainted Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are seen parked in an aerial photo at Renton Municipal Airport near the Boeing Renton facility in Renton, Washington, U.S. July 1, 2019. Picture taken July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey WassonUnpainted Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are seen parked at Renton Municipal Airport in RentonReuters

Ryanair's fleet is currently made up solely of Boeing 737-800 planes, and O'Leary asserted that the airline is still confident in adding the 737 Max model.

"Ryanair remains committed to the 737 Max aircraft, and now expects that it will return to flying service before the end of 2019, however the exact date of this return remains uncertain."

But, like many other airlines, Ryanair is looking for compensation from Boeing over the aircraft delays.

Read more: Pilots have joined a growing number of airlines in demanding payback from Boeing for its 737 Max disasters - here's the full list

Ryanair also appears to be rebranding 737 Max planes to remove the "Max" reference. Many airlines are looking for ways to soothe customer fears as many say they do not want to fly on the aircraft, even when Boeing's updates are approved.

Many airlines have taken a financial hit from Boeing's crisis, and US airlines are cancelling thousands of flights into November.

Get the latest Boeing stock price here.
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