By Conor Humphries
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ryanair <RYA.I> expects further delay to its Boeing MAX 737 deliveries and may still be without the jets next summer, it said on Monday after half-year results that gave the Irish airline's shares a 7% uplift.
While investors appeared to focus on the better than expected profit and fares, Europe's largest budget carrier said it now expects to fly 157 million passengers in the year to March 31, 2021.
That represents only 2.6% growth from the current financial year, its slowest in seven years. And further delays on the jets could reduce that to zero growth at an airline that has increased passenger numbers by more than 10% on average since 2014.
However, finance chief Neil Sorahan said there is "no risk at all" that the airline would fail to meet its target of flying 200 million passengers a year by March 2024.
Ryanair is one of Boeing's biggest customers for the grounded MAX 737, with 210 on order, and said in July that it expected to be flying 30 of the planes next summer after taking its first delivery in January.
CEO Michael O'Leary on Monday said the company had lowered its estimate to 20 planes by next summer with "a real risk of none".
"The risk of further delay is rising," he said in a post-results video presentation, adding that he does not expect Boeing to achieve its target of getting the plane back in service in the United States by Christmas.
U.S. carriers do not expect to fly the MAX until 2020, schedules show, as they wait for regulators to end the worldwide grounding that followed two deadly crashes.
Ryanair faces longer delays because it has to wait for approval by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and specific certification for Ryanair's MAX200 model, each of which are likely to cause several weeks of delay.
The airline reported post-tax profit of 1.15 billion euros (£993.01 million) for the six months to Sept. 30, its most profitable part of the year, beating a consensus forecast of 1.08 billion euros in a company supplied poll of analysts.
Falls in average fares were less than feared and revenue for optional extras surged 28% after the introduction of a charge to bring a 10kg piece of hand luggage on flights.
It now expects full-year profit of between 800 million and 900 million euros, versus a previous forecast of 750-950 million euros and a consensus analyst estimate of 836 million euros.
That would represent a continued decline from last financial year's 1.02 billion euro profit, which was down from 1.45 billion euros the year before that.
Ryanair said it expects modest growth in average fares this winter, with strong sales of optional extras to raise full-year revenue per passenger by 2-3%.
It also warned of higher than expected losses at its Austrian subsidiary Laudamotion because of overcapacity in Austria and Germany.
"Q2 was ahead of consensus, with average fares not as bad as feared," Liberum analyst Gerald Khoo said in a note, adding that the balance of risks to next year "is modestly on the downside given further MAX delivery delays."
(Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Jason Neely and David Goodman)