Ryanair Set to Start Flying Modified 737 Max After U.S. Signoff

Ryanair Holdings Plc is poised to begin flights with a new variant of the Boeing Co. 737 Max jet after U.S. regulators signed off on a model that’s set to cut costs by squeezing in almost 200 passengers.

The discount carrier expects to take delivery of its first Max 200 this month, becoming the first operator of the plane, and aims to deploy as many as 16 this summer, Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary said last week.

Development and approval of the aircraft was delayed by the grounding of existing versions of the Max in March 2019 following two fatal crashes. Ryanair has 210 of the planes on order which it plans to fit with 197 seats, keeping below a threshold that would require an extra flight attendant.

Agency Partners analyst Nick Cunningham said that while passengers “may not like being squashed in,” the extra capacity will help Ryanair compete on fares with rivals including Wizz Air Holdings Plc, whose fleet includes bigger Airbus SE A321 jets, in extremely price-sensitive markets.

The Dublin-based carrier was a vocal backer of the Max through its near two-year grounding, calling it a “game-changer” that will cut costs per passenger and be more efficient and quieter than its existing fleet of 737-800 planes.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration confirmed certification of what it termed the 737-8200 in an emailed statement Wednesday.

While mostly identical to the current Max-8, the model features an extra pair of exit doors and modified lavatories that required additional regulatory scrutiny. The high-density layout means the Max 200 will have less legroom than some configurations used by other Max operators.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency is expected to sign off on the plane shortly, along with the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority that now has oversight in Britain following its split from the EU.

Ryanair declined to comment on its deployment plans for the new model.

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