Ryanair has warned that it could be forced to cut flights or close some of its bases because a delay in deliveries of Boeing 737 Max aircraft will impact its passenger numbers.

The Irish carrier has ordered 135 of the 737 Max 200 model, but deliveries of the aircraft have been put on hold since the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes that killed a total of 346 people.

The aircraft has been grounded since March and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been testing a software update developed by Boeing in recent weeks. However, the regulator says the manufacturer still has issues to address before the 737 Max can be recertified.

Yesterday, photos emerged of a 737 Max in Ryanair livery, but the “Max” had been dropped from the model number on the nose of the plane and replaced with “737-8200”.

But now Ryanair has cut its forecast for passenger numbers in the year to March 2021 from 162 million to 157 million. It says it has cut its summer 2020 growth rate to 3 per cent from 7 per cent.

The carrier is reportedly in discussions with airports, staff and unions to determine which underperforming or loss-making basis it should shut from November this year. It blames the potential cuts on a shortfall in aircraft deliveries owing to the 737 Max problems.

CEO Michael O’Leary said: “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. Ryanair will continue to work with Boeing and the EASA [European Union Aviation Safety Agency] to recover these delivery delays during the winter of 2020 so that we can restore our growth to normal levels in summer 2021.”

The airline had originally planned to receive 58 Max aircraft up to the end of May 2020 but is now expecting only 30 to arrive, forcing it to review next summer’s schedule.

Ryanair joins a growing list of airlines impacted by the grounding of the 737 Max. American Airlines has cancelled 115 flights a day until 2 November and previously announced that it was cutting its sales forecast due to the issue.

At the start of the grounding order, then-Norwegian CEO Bjorn Kjos said the airline would bill Boeing for the costs it incurs, while a group of Chinese carriers banded together to demand a payout from the manufacturer.

Boeing, too, has suffered from the controversy surround the 737 Max. In April, the manufacturer reported a 21 per cent decrease in earnings but admitted at the time that it couldn’t calculate the full impact of the aircraft’s grounding.

Indonesian carrier Garuda requested to cancel its 737 Max order and Saudi Arabian low-cost airline Flyadeal binned its own order and instead took its business to Airbus. Oman Air chief executive Abdulaziz Al Raisi threatened to do the same at the Paris Air Show in June, saying the airline’s expansion plans had been “significantly curtailed” by the grounding.

The family of a British United Nations worker killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash has launched legal action against Boeing, but the manufacturer has pledged US$100 million to support the families of the victims.

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