Budget air travel in Europe is set to be revolutionised as Ryanair prepares to unveil its first retrofitted ‘greener’ plane in Scotland

The eyes of the global aviation community are focused firmly on Prestwick Airport as they await the departure of the first “new” Ryanair Boeing 737-800 aircraft to feature a new device being installed as part of a multi-million-pound retrofit programme.

Ryanair, Europe’s biggest airline, has signed a deal worth £140 million with Aviation Partners Boeing (APB) to install ‘Split Scimitar Winglets’ on its entire fleet of 409 Boeing 737-800 Next Generation aircraft. 

Ryanair says the modification will improve aircraft fuel efficiency by up to 1.5 per cent, reducing the airline’s annual fuel consumption by 65 million litres and carbon emissions by 165,000 tonnes.

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Winglets, the vertical tips at the end of many commercial aircraft wings, are designed to reduce drag and therefore increase fuel efficiency. 

Designed, developed and certified by APB, Split Scimitar Winglets are named after a Middle Eastern sword with distinct curved blades ending with a sharp point. 

The winglets consist of aerodynamic revisions to the wing tip, replacing the aluminium tip with the curved, scimitar-shaped tip cap. A further ventral strake, also scimitar-shaped, is added below. 

They are a modification on APB’s blended winglet extensions to airplane wings, which first appeared in 2001. 

The Herald: A Ryanair aircraft at a hanger within Glasgow Prestwick Airport with a Split Scimitar WingletA Ryanair aircraft at a hanger within Glasgow Prestwick Airport with a Split Scimitar Winglet (Image: Ryanair)

Ryanair started the operation to retrofit all its Boeing B737-800 Next Generation fleet with Split Scimitar Winglets with a 2006-built aircraft EI-DLY at Glasgow Prestwick Airport. 

Flight tracking data from website Flightradar24 shows the plane arrived at Prestwick from Birmingham Airport in the early hours of January 5 to undergo the retrofit.

Ryanair confirmed to The Herald that the retrofit programme of its full Next Generation fleet will be fitted at Prestwick alongside other Ryanair facilities across Europe. 

As well as having a base at the airport, Ryanair has a heavy maintenance repair and overhaul facility which operates across five bays within two purpose-built aircraft hangars.

The “new” Ryanair B737-800 aircraft is currently on the ground in Prestwick and is expected to be rolled out of the hangar in the coming days. 

The initiative also furthers Ryanair’s target of net zero by 2050 as the airline grows to carry 225 million passengers by June 2026.

Speaking about the programme, Ryanair’s director of sustainability, Thomas Fowler, said the investment shows that the airline is “leading the way in sustainable aviation”. 

He said: “As Europe’s most environmentally-efficient major airline, we are leading the way in sustainable aviation as demonstrated by this investment in our fleet. This winglet technology will help us reach our ambitious environmental targets on our pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050. 

“We are impressed with APB’s innovative winglet designs and look forward to having them installed on not just this first aircraft, but on over 400 of our aircraft to reduce our emissions.”

APB’s chief commercial officer, Patrick LaMoria said: “Having the operator of the world’s largest fleet of 737-800 Next Generation aircraft install Split Scimitar Winglets is the ultimate endorsement of APB and its products. We are both humbled and honoured to continue to support Ryanair in their ambitious sustainability initiatives.”