Europe’s biggest budget airline will be flying the Boeing 737 Max from “probably early next year”.
Eddie Wilson, chief executive of the main operating division, Ryanair DAC, made the prediction as American Airlines revealed plans to start flying the plane between New York and Miami.
“It gives us lower operating costs. In the environment we’re in now, the Max will not only be welcomed by Ryanair, it’ll be welcomed by our crews as well.”
The 737 Max is more fuel efficient and less environmentally harmful than earlier models of the aircraft.
Ryanair is by far the biggest European customer for the Max. It has firm orders for 135 of a special version of the jet, with 197 seats – eight more than the standard configuration.
The carrier has a further 75 on option. It was due to start flying the Max to and from its main base, London Stansted, in May 2019.
But the plane has been grounded worldwide since March 2019, days after the loss of 157 passengers and crew aboard Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi.
It followed the crash in October 2018 of Lion Air flight 610 on a domestic flight. All 189 passengers and crew died.
Both planes came down shortly after take-off, with pilots battling in vain to overcome an anti-stall system known as MCAS that forced the nose of the aircraft down.
A single faulty sensor triggered each of the disasters.
The Boeing 737 is the world’s most popular passenger plane in terms of numbers built since it first flew in 1967.
The latest version, with very large engines mounted on the front of the wings. had been certified as safe to fly by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). But a US Congressional investigation found “clearly it was not”.
Since the grounding, Boeing has been making changes to the flawed design and seeking to persuade aviation authorities to allow passenger flights to begin again.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (Easa), which regulates Ryanair is conducting its own checks.
Speaking exclusively to The Independent, Mr Wilson said: “I think it’s going to come back into service in the next number of weeks in the US.
“Easa has been working closely with the FAA. It’s trying to get two regulatory authorities to jump together. The FAA are going to go first, and Easa closely behind that.”
The remedial work required before the return to service includes new software and additional training for pilots.
There is speculation in the industry that Ryanair may place a large order for additional Boeing 737 Max jets. In 2001, in the wake of 9/11, the airline ordered 100 737s at extremely favourable prices.
The move conferred Ryanair with a significant cost advantage over its rivals, which it still enjoys.
More broadly, Boeing has issued a future market forecast in marked contrast to the optimism that usually characterises such predictions.
The aviation analyst John Strickland said: “I’ve spoken with Boeing a number of times as they’ve been working on the forecast and believe they are right to be cautious in the next four to five years with so much large wide-body capacity being permanently grounded.
“Airlines will inevitably be cautious when it comes to rebuilding, deferring orders and taking smaller aircraft.
"Previous crises have always seen a return to the long-term growth trend after a number of years.
“The unknown is whether this global crisis will follow that pattern and what the impact of environmental concerns will be.”