Ryanair is training pilots at a Scottish airport to ease the staffing crisis that forced it to cancel 18,000 flights.
New recruits have repeatedly been taking off and landing in a pair of Boeing 737s at Prestwick Airport, Ayrshire.
The budget airline is hoping to bolster flight crew staff numbers as quickly as possible, after cancelling flights between Scotland and London over the winter.
Last week trainees were seen being put through their paces at Prestwick Airport, where their flight patterns were picked up by radars.
Two planes flew off the Prestwick runway and circled around the airport in a loop – they then repeated the circuit six times before swapping pilots. There were multiple would-be pilots on the jet, taking it in turn to complete circuits.
The scramble to train the new wave of pilots followed Ryanair’s cancellation of 18,000 commercial flights between November this year and March 2018, affecting 400,000 people, who have accused the firm of “cancelling Christmas”.
Each year Ryanair puts pilots through “base training” at Prestwick and East Midlands Airport to prepare them for commercial flying.
Base training is one of the final stages of becoming a commercial pilot, where trainees get to practise flying commercial airliners for real, many after spending countless hours in simulators.
Each pilot is required to complete six circuits, involving take-offs and landings, without any passengers on board.
In previous years Ryanair has normally used just one aircraft for this type of training.
A senior aviation source – who works as a captain for a rival airline – said: “They’re clearly making a real effort. I’d describe it as a noticeable stepping up. The number of training flights they’re running suggests they’re trying to augment the number of flight deck crew they have as quickly as possible, while adhering to the training standard and requirements.”
While the would-be pilots were learning their manoeuvres, angry Ryanair customers were finding out their flights had been cancelled. Ryanair is currently advertising 22 pilot vacancies on its website. The company is hiring direct entry captains, meaning existing first officers with rival airlines can be fast-tracked to the position of captain with Ryanair.
Ryanair said this was “due to extensive growth” but sources admit they need to win back public confidence after the PR disaster.
The carrier says it has offered jobs to more than 650 new pilots, who will join the ranks between now and May 2018.
The Irish carrier has been forced to deal with flight cancellations after miscalculating pilot holiday leave.
The firm said it will fly 25 fewer aircraft between November and March as part of efforts to end a flurry of cancellations that has already seen 2,000 flights grounded.