Skift Take

With Ryanair one of the plane maker's biggest customers, Michael O’Leary's comments will likely carry extra weight at Boeing HQ.

Ryanair is one of Boeing’s biggest customers, so you’d think the contest to be the plane maker’s new CEO would a big deal. But it isn’t.

Speaking during the carrier’s earnings call on Monday, Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair Group CEO, didn’t identify a preferred candidate. In fact, he suggested the company doesn’t have one at all. 

“We don’t care. As long as it doesn’t affect the good work that Stephanie Pope and the team are doing in Seattle. We do not want any disruption in Seattle – we want all of Boeing… to allow [them] to focus on the deliveries and the quality of those deliveries.”

Alongside her role as COO of The Boeing Company, Pope was appointed as CEO of the Boeing Commercial Airplanes division in March. She has been tasked with strengthening safety and quality after a difficult few years for the business. 

During the March shake-up, Dave Calhoun announced that he would step down as Boeing Company CEO at the end of 2024. While a successor has not yet been named, there has been no shortage of speculation.

Industry chatter suggests Pope is highly regarded. Other contenders could include Larry Culp, the CEO of GE Aerospace; and Pat Shanahan, the CEO of Spirit Aerosystems. 

O’Leary’s Outspoken Comments

Speaking to Skift in March before the executive shake-up, O’Leary called out “corporate bullsh*t” at the U.S. plane maker. 

High-profile interventions by the straight-talking CEO matter. The Ryanair Group is Boeing’s largest customer in Europe with more than 500 jets in its fleet and hundreds more on order.

To the likely delight of Boeing management, O’Leary was full of praise for the company during Monday’s earnings call. 

He said new 737 Max planes are being delivered to a higher standard with fewer defects. “We have recently seen an improvement in the quality of the [aircraft] fuselages being delivered from Wichita to Seattle [factories], and also an improvement in the quality of the final deliveries we’re getting in Seattle. What we now need is a plan to accelerate our 737 deliveries.”

Boeing Delivery Bottlenecks Persist

Despite modest improvements in recent weeks, O’Leary said the company “continues to face delivery challenges with Boeing.”

The Ryanair Group had 146 Boeing 737 Max 8s in its fleet at the end of March. While it hopes to increase this to nearer 160 by the end of July, it would still be around 20 aircraft short of its contracted deliveries for the all-important summer season

“They’re not carrying forward defects on fuselages which have to be repaired in Seattle. However, that hasn’t yet speeded up the turnaround of the planes. They should be turning around those fuselages in about eight or nine weeks – we’re still seeing turnarounds at 12-14 weeks,” said O’Leary.

“But we think Stephanie Pope and the team in Seattle are doing a much better job. The good thing with Stephanie is she’s there, she’s on the ground, there’s daily and weekly briefings. I think they’re getting it. We say to Boeing to keep up the good work.”

Owing to the delays, O’Leary confirmed that the airline’s full-year traffic forecast will fall this year from an original 205 million passengers to between 198 and 200 million.

Despite the problems, Ryanair will still operate its largest-ever summer schedule with more than 200 new routes, and five additional airport bases.

Airlines Sector Stock Index Performance Year-to-Date

What am I looking at? The performance of airline sector stocks within the ST200. The index includes companies publicly traded across global markets including network carriers, low-cost carriers, and other related companies.

The Skift Travel 200 (ST200) combines the financial performance of nearly 200 travel companies worth more than a trillion dollars into a single number. See more airlines sector financial performance

Read the full methodology behind the Skift Travel 200.

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Tags: 737 max, air safety, airlines, Boeing, boeing 737 max, low-cost carriers, Michael O'Leary, ryanair

Photo credit: Ryanair Group CEO Michael O'Leary has struck an upbeat assessment of Boeing's turnaround program. Ryanair / Ryanair

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