(Bloomberg) -- Ryanair Holdings Plc is reported to be in talks to purchase between 150 and 200 Boeing Co. 737 Max aircraft, in a deal that would boost confidence in the grounded jet as it prepares for a return to service.
Ryanair is discussing a mix of Max 200s, the version it has already ordered, and the bigger Max 10, the Irish Independent reported Friday, without saying where it got the information. An order could be placed by year-end, the newspaper reported.
Dublin-based Ryanair, Europe’s largest discount carrier, declined to comment, as did a representative for Boeing.
A purchase of that size would total at least $18.7 billion at list prices, making it the biggest plane order in a 2020 market that’s been roiled by the Covid-19 pandemic. It would also provide a morale-builder to Boeing as it brings its most popular jet back into commercial use. The Max has been grounded since March 2019, after two crashes in the space of five months killed 346 people.
Investors have been gaining confidence that Boeing will meet its latest goal of a return for the Max by year-end. Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson flew the plane this week, concluding: “I like what I saw.”
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A Ryanair order would testify to continued demand for the Max, despite the ravages of the pandemic and the hit to the plane’s reputation. Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary has predicted discounters like his own will emerge stronger from the crisis and said in February he’d issued proposals for a Max 10 deal.
Ryanair currently has 135 737 Max-200s on order, plus another 75 options, according to its website.
Shares of Chicago-based Boeing have advanced 15% in the past five sessions, though are still down 48% this year, the worst performance on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Boeing was down 3.6% in pre-market New York trading on Friday amid an anticipated market drop following President Trump’s positive diagnosis for the virus.
Ryanair fell 2.1% as of 10:29 a.m. in Dublin, after sliding as much as 3.1% earlier.
Dublin-based Davy Stockbrokers analyst Stephen Furlong predicted in a note last month that Ryanair would take advantage of a soft market to announce a follow-on Max acquisition.
O’Leary has a track record of buying jets in downturns to drive a tougher deal.
Ryanair said last year that buying bigger planes to operate alongside the Max-200 -- a high-density upgrade of the 737-800s that it currently uses -- would increase capacity on longer routes, such as Scotland to the Canary Islands or services to Israel.
(Updates with Boeing comment from third paragraph, updates shares)
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