Ryanair pilots face ‘threats over safety concerns’

Ryanair's controversial chief executive Michael O'Leary. Picture: PA
Ryanair's controversial chief executive Michael O'Leary. Picture: PA
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RYANAIR pilots have accused their airline of attempting to intimidate employees and prevent them from raising concerns about its safety practices.

An internal survey of 1,000 pilots and first officers at one of Europe’s biggest airlines found two-thirds did not feel comfortable about raising safety issues and nine out of ten said the company did not have an “open and transparent safety culture”.

More than a third of pilots took part in the survey commissioned by the Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG), an unofficial body at the Irish firm. Ryanair refuses to recognise trade unions.

Ryanair previously warned in a memo that any pilot signing what it described as a “so-called safety petition” could face the sack for gross misconduct.

Nearly 90 per cent called on regulators to take action against the airline for issuing the memo.

And nearly 70 per cent of respondents said they no longer continued to have confidence in the safety reporting system of Ryanair after receiving the memo.

An anonymous pilot said: “It is really difficult to talk to them and the tone used is really unusual for an airline. It’s usually threats and bullying.”

A Ryanair spokesman said: “Airline safety is a matter of fact and evidence. It is not something that can be traduced to a subjective survey.” The added the pilot group “lacks any independence, objectivity or reliability”.

The carrier, led by controversial chief executive Michael O’Leary, has gained notoriety for its low-fare, no-frills service which carries additional charges for paying by most cards, checking in at the airport, carrying hold bags and reserving seats.

Ryanair said it rejected claims made by a tiny number of pilots as a way of promoting “failed efforts to unionise Ryanair pilots”.

Evert van Zwol, chairman of the RPG, and until recently president of the Dutch Airline Pilots Association, also revealed that around three-quarters of Ryanair pilots are employed through agencies and nearly all of these are on zero-hour contracts, which offer no guaranteed work.

The Irish Airline Pilots’ Association trade union said these contracts had some of the worst conditions in the industry.

Mr van Zwol said this could mean pilots may shy away from speaking up, for example on whether their plane was carrying enough fuel, or choose to fly when sick.

While there was no proof that this was the case, he said, the concerns warranted a full independent inquiry to establish if there were any grounds for safety fears.

The RPG said it has given the survey results to Ryanair and the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA).

“This needs to be followed up by someone independent,” Mr van Zwol added. “It’s mind-boggling that these people are not taking a proactive stance – what could possibly be wrong with a proactive investigation?”

Last year, the IAA launched an investigation following emergency landings by three Ryanair planes in Spain after they approached their minimum required fuel. The Boeing 737-800 aircraft heading to Madrid were forced to make emergency landings after being diverted to Valencia because of thunderstorms.