Ryanair may cancel or buy back leave to tackle staffing issue

Likelihood of cancellations hinges on pilots’ response to buy-back offer, says O’Leary

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary has apologised to more than 300,000 people who will be directly impacted by the airline’s rolling programme of flight cancellations.

 

Ryanair may cancel or buy back part of its pilots’ leave as it bids to tackle the problems that forced it to cancel an average of 50 flights a day for the next six weeks.

The airline’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, maintained on Monday that a mix-up in the allocation of holidays to its pilots was the sole reason for the cancellations, which are likely to hit 400,000 travellers.

Ryanair agreed to allow pilots to take four weeks’ leave through to the end of this year in a move prompted by a change in the rules governing their time off.

“We will be asking pilots to sell back some of that leave to us,” Mr O’Leary said. He added that it may have to consider cancelling a portion of that time off, depending on their responses.

He explained that the airline had to calculate pilots’ leave for a nine-month period from April 1st to December 31st this year, rather than from April 1st to March 31st, as it has done in the past.

Ryanair is allowing the pilots to take their summer holidays in four-week blocks, which is its normal practice. Mr O’Leary said that up to late last week, it believed that it had the staff to cover all its scheduled flights.

Ryanair cancellations September 25th-October 22nd

He dismissed reports that a shortage of pilots or other staff was partly to blame for the decision to cancel the flights. “We have over 4,200 pilots in Ryanair,” Mr O’Leary stressed.

He noted that it had more than five of each grade of pilot needed, including first officers and captains, for each of its aircraft.

The airline boss said that fewer than 100 pilots have defected from Ryanair to its rival Norwegian Air, which was reported to have poached 140 fliers from the Irish carrier since last year.

Norwegian, which began offering cheap flights from Ireland to the US this summer, recently announced plans to hire 40 pilots for a base that it is planning to open at Dublin Airport.

Both airlines fly Boeing 737 aircraft, which makes it easy for pilots from one carrier to move to the other.

Signing-up bonus

Ryanair announced it will offer some grades of pilot a special €10,000 signing-up bonus for joining the airline between October 2017 and April 2018.

However, its chief executive pointed out that this would only apply to pilots with the rank of first officer who join with the object of becoming captains, the most senior grade.

Mr O’Leary explained that as the airline had bought new aircraft between the end of 2012 and 2014, it did not have enough pilots in this grade, He said that the bonus was specifically to attract suitable candidates.

He stressed that cancelling the flights was the best option available to the airline, as this would hit just 2 per cent of its customers, most of whom would be offered alternative services on the same day as the journeys they had booked.

Ryanair believes that the alternative, continuing to try and operate its full schedule, would have disrupted up to 40 per cent of its services. It said that most of the 16 million passengers it would transport during the period would not be hit.

None of the other Irish-based airlines, including Aer Lingus, Cityjet and Norwegian Air International, would have had their rosters hit by a change in the rules governing pilots’ leave.

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