Aer Lingus had to cancel 56 flights this year due to pilots being ill or unavailable

Airline has raised the pilots’ unavailability with unions Ialpa/Fórsa, querying whether it was unofficial action

Aer Lingus pilots are planning to undertake a work to rule from June 26th. They are seeking a 24 per cent pay rise. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Pilot absences due to an increase in illness or other reasons forced Aer Lingus to cancel 56 flights over the past six months, the company confirmed on Wednesday.

Members of the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (Ialpa), part of trade union Fórsa, at Aer Lingus plan to start a strict work to rule, eliminating all flexible working, from June 26th in pursuit of a 24 per cent pay rise.

The carrier confirmed that it has cancelled 56 flights since the start of the year as a consequence of an increased number of pilots being unable to work out of hours due to illness or for other reasons.

Donal Moriarty, Aer Lingus chief corporate affairs officer, said 14 of the flights were at the weekend, including services from Dublin to Chicago and New York.


He attributed the cancellations to increased levels of illness and other issues that left pilots unable to work out of hours when requested. “It led to a lack of normal flexibility,” Mr Moriarty added.

Work to rule will be more disruptive for Aer Lingus than one day strikesOpens in new window ]

Ialpa argues that Aer Lingus does not have enough pilots to adequately crew its schedules and blames this for the cancellations.

The airline contests this. Mr Moriarty said that Aer Lingus had 766 pilots on its payroll as of this month, almost 3 per cent more than in June last year, and had grown scheduled flights by 84 to 6,541 over the same period.

“So we have increased pilot numbers by 3 per cent and schedules by just over 1 per cent,” he noted.

Aer Lingus has raised the pilots’ unavailability with Ialpa/Fórsa, querying whether it was unofficial action.

A union spokesman rejected this. “No such action has taken place,” he said, adding that Ialpa went through “painstaking procedures”, including balloting members twice, when getting a mandate for next week’s work to rule.

All bar eight of the 668 pilots who voted backed industrial action.

Fórsa confirmed that cabin crew, which it represents, have written to Ialpa expressing solidarity with the pilots, but the union stressed that those workers have no dispute with Aer Lingus.

Aer Lingus talks on industrial action unlikely for daysOpens in new window ]

The spokesman noted that they cannot take industrial action along with pilots as this would require a ballot and for cabin crew to be in dispute with the company.

Niall Phillips, aviation sector organiser with Siptu, which represents Aer Lingus ground staff, explained that the union would have to get legal advice on any formal request to act in support of pilots as its members have no dispute with the airline.

Siptu has agreed pay increases totalling 12.25 per cent with Aer Lingus and reserves the right to revisit this if the airline awards any other group a higher increase that is not tied to extra productivity.

Aer Lingus strike likely after just six of 668 pilots vote against industrial actionOpens in new window ]

Meanwhile, talks on averting the pilots’ action are unlikely to start before next week as union negotiators have returned to normal flying duties. Ialpa blames the pilot shortage for this but management contests that.

Aer Lingus wants the Workplace Relations Commission to host negotiations but Ialpa is unwilling to involve third parties.

Ialpa last month turned down a Labour Court recommendation that it accept a 9.25 per cent pay rise.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas