DUBLIN — There’s finally some good news for Boeing: The European discount airline Ryanair said Tuesday that it will buy 175 of Boeing’s popular 737 jets, the largest order ever placed by a European carrier.
Chicago-based Boeing Co. has struggled since its new 787 Dreamliner was grounded in January following electrical system problems. And it was dealt a blow Monday in the race to win the single-aisle plane market when Indonesia’s Lion Air signed a deal with rival Airbus for 234 of that company’s A320s.
Ryanair’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, said the deal with Boeing will allow his airline to expand in markets such as Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, and Scandinavia. Neither side disclosed the purchase price, but O’Leary said the airline negotiated a bulk discount off the total list price of $15.6 billion. Ryanair got a 53 percent discount on a prior 737 order. This time, O’Leary said he was paying ‘‘slightly higher’’ prices.
He said Ryanair will cease buying back shares and paying dividends for two to three years to help pay for the jets.
The deal was timed to coincide with Tuesday’s visit by Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland to Washington, D.C., to meet President Obama and senior US legislators for St. Patrick’s Day-related events.
Kenny called the Ryanair deal a contract ‘‘of extraordinary proportions’’ and a sign of Ryanair’s success.
Ryanair already operates 305 Boeing 737-800 aircraft, each with 189 seats, one of the tightest configurations in the industry. It is Boeing’s biggest European customer for the model, which faces global competition from the Airbus A320.
Boeing’s primary 737 assembly line in Renton, Wash., faces a transition to building a newer model called the 737 MAX by 2017. Ryanair’s order represents about a half-year of full-time work for the plant.
Ryanair has yet to sign on for the new MAX jet, but O’Leary said he has assembled a team to evaluate the new version of the 737.
Ray Conner, the head of Boeing’s commercial airplanes division, said this deal fills most of his 737 assembly line capacity until MAX production begins.
Ryanair expects to get the first new planes at the end of 2014. O’Leary said about 75 of the new-order 737s would replace older airplanes, but the fleet would grow to 400 by 2019. He said Ryanair expected its passenger volume to grow around 20 percent to 100 million passengers by 2019.
Ryanair is one of the world’s wealthiest airlines, with more than $4 billion in cash. It offers Internet-only sales of low-fare tickets — accompanied by a panoply of extra charges.