RyanAir CEO unloads on 2 years of Boeing problems

RyanAir CEO Michael O'Leary with a model plane in Germany.

RyanAir CEO Michael O’Leary with a model plane in Germany. wolterfoto/ullstein bild

Boeing’s ongoing plane malfunctions have been making people uneasy—from regulators to customers to the flying public. 

Now Ryanair CEO (and longtime Boeing customer) Michael O’Leary is piling on the plane maker. The famously outspoken CEO has slammed Boeing’s construction malfunctions and management problems in several interviews.

For the last two years, “we were finding little things, like spanners under floorboards, in some cases, seat handles missing, things like that,” O’Leary told CNN on March 20. All of those incidents, he said, show “a lack of attention to detail” and “quality issues at Boeing.” 

O’Leary also unloaded to travel website Skift, saying Boeing needs someone dedicated to “fixing the supply chain” and needs to make smarter management decisions to ensure maintenance and safety aren’t overlooked.

Since a door blew off from a Boeing plane in early January (and was later discovered to be missing four bolts), the company has faced high-profile failure after failure. Earlier this month, flames from the engine of a Boeing 737-900, operated by United Airlines, streaked the sky; a tire fell off another Boeing plane operated by United; and a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, operated by Latam Airlines, injured dozens after suddenly dropping mid-flight.

The outcry and intense scrutiny over Boeing’s safety practices have now led to the departure of CEO David Calhoun as well as Boeing’s chairman, and the replacement of commercial division head Stan Deal with Stephanie Pope, who’s been with Boeing for nearly 30 years and is now chief operating officer. 

Boeing did not respond to Fortune’s request for comment. A Boeing spokesperson told Business Insider this week the company is “squarely focused on implementing changes to strengthen quality across our production system and taking the necessary time to deliver high-quality airplanes that meet all regulatory requirements.” 

In a statement on Monday, O’Leary wrote that “we welcome these much-needed management changes in Seattle.” But he’s been vocal about his concerns over other management decisions. 

In the Skift interview, O’Leary criticized how Boeing replaced Ed Clark, an employee of 18 years and the former head of its 737 Max program. Katie Ringgold, the former vice president of 737 Max deliveries, took on Clark’s role and the company created a new executive position for Elizabeth Lund, who used to be the senior vice president of commercial airplanes, to oversee quality of the planes. 

The managerial move, which puts “someone in charge of 737s and someone in charge of safety,” O’Leary said, “smacks of corporate bullshit.” 

“They’ve appointed two very good ladies there,” he said, but added, “why isn’t the person in charge of 737s in charge of the fucking safety as well?” He went further: “They have a leadership team of 3,500 people, but that’s a committee designing a fucking camel.”

O’Leary believes these setbacks, in addition to Boeing’s delayed plane deliveries, will strain his airline’s operations and prove a burden to customers. He expects Boeing to fall short on its promised shipments of 197-seat 737-2-200 models by the end of the year, and said the shipping delays will render his airline’s fleet about 10 planes short. The aircraft shortage, which will continue during busier summer months, could drive Ryanair to raise ticket prices about 10% higher than what it charged last summer. 

Of Ryanair’s 600 aircrafts, 95% are manufactured by Boeing. It’s a partnership meant to pioneer air travel on a budget, while also investing in greener technology. Ryanair is now one of Europe’s biggest airlines, and the partnership is going strong: last May, Ryanair announced it ordered 300 Max 10s from Boeing, which offer 21% more seats and promise to burn 20% less fuel while being just half as loud as other plane models. 

Despite all Boeing’s plane malfunctions, air travel remains one of the safest ways to travel—there have been just two fatal accidents on U.S airlines since 2009. There were 9.6 million U.S flights last year. But the plane maker’s faults have been alarming people around the world, including prominent politicians like France’s minister of economics and finance, Bruno Le Maire. 

“I’d rather fly Airbus than Boeing. My family too: they care about me,” Le Maire said. O’Leary’s response was dismissive. “We live in a world where we encourage free speech and Donald Trump is talking rubbish and so is Bruno Le Maire,” he said in an interview with Politico, adding that other prominent airline manufacturers in Europe, like Airbus, have malfunction issues too.

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