By Angelo Amante and Elisa Anzolin
ROME/MILAN (Reuters) -Ryanair is looking to build on its market-leading position in Italy if more airport slots become available as a result of ITA Airways teaming up with Lufthansa, the budget airline’s CEO Michael O’Leary said on Tuesday.
Lufthansa is seeking to acquire a 41% stake in state-owned ITA for 325 million euros ($354 million), but the deal faces an investigation by European Union regulators, and the airlines may need to cede slots to win approval for the combination.
Speaking in Rome, O’Leary said Ryanair believed that slots were likely to be released at Rome’s Fiumicino airport and the Malpensa and Linate airports in Milan.
Ryanair was particularly interested in expanding at Fiumicino, the country’s busiest airport, he said.
“To the extent that slots are freed up in Linate, we believe easyJet and Wizz (Air) will move aircraft from Malpensa to Linate to take up those slots, and that will create more room for us to grow in Malpensa,” he added. “Where ITA isn’t growing, Ryanair will grow instead.”
Speaking at a later press conference in Milan, O’Leary said Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers, was not planning any M&A deals of its own, as it was easier to grow organically.
The Ryanair boss also confirmed that the airline was facing a shortfall in Boeing aircraft deliveries this year because of issues that pre-date the current safety alert over some planes.
Ryanair was due to have 57 Boeing MAX 8200 planes delivered by the end of April, but O’Leary said it was now likely to get only 50 by the end of June. The shortfall could cut passenger numbers by around 2 million-3 million this year, he added.
The company has doubled its team of engineers at the Boeing plant in Seattle after safety concerns this month led to the grounding of 171 Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes.
Ryanair is one of Boeing’s largest customers, but operates different variants of the 737 MAX from the type that has been grounded.
“Both Boeing and Airbus have more to do to improve the quality of the aircraft they are making, but overall we are very proud to fly the 737, it’s a very safe aircraft,” O’Leary said during the Rome leg of an Italian visit publicising new routes. ($1 = 0.9184 euros)
(Reporting by Angelo Amante and Elisa AnzolinWriting by Keith Weir; Editing by Cristina Carlevaro, Kirsten Donovan and Jan Harvey)