Ryanair Still Committed To Chinese Built Aircraft Amid Airbus Boeing Duopoly

In 2011, Ryanair placed a memorandum of understanding for a 200 seat COMAC C919 variant. In an interview with Simple Flying on Tuesday, the airline’s CEO Michael O’Leary said that the low-cost carrier is still committed to the COMAC program.

Ryanair, COMAC, C919, Michael O'Leary
Ryanair is still committed to the Chinese built COMAC C919. Photo: Getty Images

Currently, the aircraft options are limited when you’re talking about an A320/737 sized aircraft. Realistically, the only options are Airbus or Boeing. However, China is working to introduce the COMAC C919 as a third option. Unfortunately, like Berlin’s new airport, the entry to service has been delayed somewhat. However, with five test aircraft now in the skies, progress is starting to be made.

What has O’Leary said?

In 2011 Ryanair signed a memorandum of understanding with COMAC regarding a 200 seat C919. However, since then very little has been said on the topic. Simple Flying got the opportunity to interview Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary last week at the Airlines For Europe conference in Brussels, and we discussed the COMAC MoU.

On the topic, O’Leary told us:

“we’re still committed to the Comac program”

He also identified the need for a challenger to Airbus and Boeing, to replace McDonnell Douglas, saying,

“All airlines and customers need to see the emergence of a third manufacturer to replace McDonnell Douglas and the Chinese would be a very welcome addition.”

Ryanair, easyjet, Peter Bellew
Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary made the comments in a recent interview with Simple Flying. Photo: Getty

Current issues with the C919

However, in his conversation with Simple Flying, Michael O’Leary also identified a couple of issues with the COMAC C919 program in its current form. Firstly, he identified the delayed entry of the aircraft to the market. After all, it was originally due to take its maiden flight in 2014. However, this didn’t take place until three years later, with certification still ongoing. On this O’Leary told us:

“The C919 has been delayed by a number of years. I mean we signed up an MoU to work with them to design a stretched version of the 919 which will be a 199/200 seat aircraft. At the moment, there is no sign of it. They have significant challenges getting the C919 certified and into service”

COMAC, C919, First Flight
The COMAC C919 program has faced repeated delays so far. Photo: Getty Images

What about pricing?

An additional hurdle that Ryanair also has, however, is getting the cost of the aircraft down. While aircraft have set list prices, airlines often get a healthy amount sliced off of the final cost. This is true for Ryanair with the Boeing 737 family. However, a challenge arises with the COMAC C919, with O’Leary commenting:

“There’s not that much opportunity to lower the cost of aircraft there. There’s no particular new technology, it’s a glorified A320, where 85% of the costs are made up of components, the avionics and all the rest of it.” Adding that “the labor doesn’t form a huge proportion of the cost of an aircraft”.

Ryanair, Kenny Jacobs, Resignation
Ryanair feels the addition of a third manufacturer would be good for the industry. Photo: Getty

The upside

However, it’s not all doom and gloom with the C919 as far as O’Leary is concerned. In fact, he mentioned that an increased supply of aircraft is the benefit. He told Simple Flying:

“I think just the very fact is there will be more supply [is good]. When you look at the state of the industry in the last twelve months, the delay of the MAX, the grounding of the MAX aircraft, the delay in the return to service has put enormous pressure on capacity across the industry and that has also meant there is has been less growth.” Justifying the last point, he added: “[Ryanair] would actually have no growth in the next twelve months because of twin impact of MAX delays and the COVID virus.”

What do you make of Ryanair’s continued commitment to the COMAC program? Would you rather fly on a COMAC C919 or The Boeing 737 MAX? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!