UPDATE 1-Ryanair ponders debt market debut as it renews fleet
* Airline seeks rating to gain direct access to debt markets
* Exec says would be interested in euro version of EETC
DUBLIN Jan 20 (Reuters) - Ireland's Ryanair is looking at tapping capital markets directly for the first time as it prepares to take delivery of recently ordered Boeing aircraft, a senior executive said on Monday.
Europe's largest airline by passenger numbers has raised funds in the past through bonds backed by the U.S. government-owned ExIm bank, but is in the process of seeking a rating to gain direct access to the debt markets.
"We are putting ourselves in a position to allow us access to capital markets. We have done it using U.S. government export credit...(but) we haven't raised any money on Ryanair's book in debt markets," corporate treasurer James Dempsey told Reuters.
Among options on the table, Ryanair is exploring whether to use a rare euro-denominated version of Enhanced Equipment Trust Certificates (EETC), a dollar-denominated funding structure popular with U.S. airlines and gradually being adopted abroad.
"We tend to value our aircraft owned in euros and we are in the euro zone," Dempsey said, speaking on the sidelines of an Airline Economics conference in Dublin.
"If you take a U.S. capital markets product, we have to swap that back (from dollars). So we prefer to raise the money in euros. That is something we would be very interested in," he added.
So far, only Air France has used euro-denominated EETC instruments, conference delegates said.
EETCs, a critical source of funding for U.S. carriers, are attractive because the planes -- the carrier's main long-term asset -- are put into a special-purpose trust to protect investors in case of an airline default or insolvency.
Such structures from non-US carriers are more rare.
Asked about the timing of a possible debt-market debut, Dempsey noted that the first of 175 recently ordered Boeing 737s would not be delivered until late this year.
Ryanair ordered the current-generation jets last year, taking advantage of attractive discounts as Boeing prepares to switch to a more efficient 737 MAX model, due out from 2017.
It has however said it is interested in ordering the MAX as it seeks to expand passenger numbers by 50 percent by the end of the decade.
Dempsey declined to comment on those negotiations, but indicated that the airline did not feel under pressure to make a quick decision due to Boeing's long waiting list. Most 737 MAX production slots are sold out until late-decade.
"The fact that the (737 MAX) aircraft is coming in 5, 6, 7 years' time makes it a lot easier to say that there is only one aircraft available today ... rather than the 13 percent (gain in) efficiency that will come in 2018," Dempsey told delegates at the conference, part of a week of air finance meetings.
Airlines have been upgrading to the re-engined 737 MAX or the competing Airbus A320neo amid high fuel prices.